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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 26 : Off-kilter
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 77


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Disclaimer: I own nothing.




Before we knew it, the news of Aidan’s awakening had spread around the castle like a bad case of herpes. We had barely stepped foot outside of the Hospital Wing, and yet it seemed like everyone already knew that Hogwarts' Resident Heartbreaker was back in—not to mention ready for—action. I didn't know how it happened, it just did.

Everywhere you went, there were bets being lost (yes, actual bets had been placed on my brother’s almost-fatal coma), tears of gratitude shed (mostly by third-year girls) and, more importantly, celebrations planned.

And by celebrations, I mean a string of ridiculous, ill-fated RoR parties in which everyone consumed buckets of alcohol, did a countless number of YouTube-worthy, terrifically stupid things (I vaguely remember Freddy last night, dancing Macarena whilst wearing nothing except for a very strategically-placed party hat), and then later threw up half the liquid content in their bodies.

What fun.

To me, these parties sounded about as enjoyable as playing charades with an epileptic troll... but Dom had badgered me so much to come with her that eventually, I had relented.

So I would get all gussied up in my jeans and t-shirt and let myself get dragged along from drunken party to drunken party, where I usually spent most my time loitering by the drinks table, sipping on Butterbeer and quietly observing as my friends made complete tossers out of themselves.

There was one memorable moment when everyone hoisted Aidan up on their shoulders and carried him around, only to accidentally drop him on some unfortunate first-year minutes later. There was the other time when Fred and Potter organized a sixty-people game of drunken Duck Duck Goose (which later had to be ended after someone slipped and fell in their own throw up—gross). Then there was the episode when Dom stole a lamp from one of the Common Rooms, started calling it her best friend and screaming at anyone who dared touch it (halfway through the night, Mr. Lampy had to be pried out of Dom’s grasp while she clung to it, singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from the movie Titanic in between sobs—I have to say, I’ve known Dom for about five years... that would have to be one of her low moments).

“I don’t see why we can’t just have a simple sit down dinner like normal people,” I huffed moodily one day as the five of us trekked to the Greenhouses for Herbology. “I mean, an ice sculpture, Dom? Was that really necessary?”

It was a beautiful morning—snowing those fat, fluffy flakes that you just can’t help but ooh and ahh at because they were so pretty. The giant fir trees that surrounded the castle looked sleepy, all covered in white and drooping with sparkling icicles. Everything was peaceful as we marched across the Grounds, stomping through giant dollops of pure, frosting-esque snow, our breaths little puffs in front of us.

This Hogwarts’ winter wonderland, however, was lost on all my friends. It was the night after one of our biggest parties yet, in which Dom had conjured a life-size ice statue of Aidan’s face, resulting in numerous incidents of people getting their tongues (and...erm, other body parts) stuck to the freezing sculpture throughout the night. Needless to say, it had been a complete disaster.

When I so kindly pointed this out though, Dom’s pear green eyes widened to the shape of saucers, and she stopped right in her tracks, giving a shrieking gasp of outrage. This set off a chain reaction in which Aidan, Freddy and Potter all winced, clutched their heads, and groaned. Simultaneously.

Huh.

Apparently, hangovers and loud noises don’t mix. Who would have thought?

“Jesus Christ, Dom!”

“Yeah, indoor voices please—”

“—we’re outdoors, you moron—”

“I don’t bloody care. Just please, I’m begging you, for the sake of humanity... shut the fuck up.”

Dom did the classic ‘roll-the-eyes-and-toss-the-hair’ move, shaking out a sprinkling of white flurries from her honey-red tresses. “Wimps,” she scoffed, and except for a couple of scathing glares, the Tweedle Trio didn’t reply.

While Dom was hangover-free and as chipper as a chipmunk, the boys seemed to be experiencing Dante’s fourth circle of hell right now, Aidan was reduced to monosyllabic words and the occasional grunt, Potter was wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses because the "fucking sun was too fucking bright for my fucking eyes," and Freddy was incapable of any physical exertion except for breathing... very, very gently.

Dom, however, was hopping around like a member of the Lollypop clan on acid, which even I found annoying despite the fact that, last night, the only thing I had consumed had been about nine packs of Capri Suns.

What can I say? I’m a party animal.

Some nights, I even go to bed at nine... thirty. Yeah, watch out.

“All I’m saying,” I huffed defensively as we continued to trudge along, “is that we probably could have done without the giant frozen replica of Aidan’s face. Just saying.”

Aidan nodded profusely, his cheeks flushed from the chill, snowflakes clinging to his tousled mop of hair. Even though I had insisted on him bundling up in about fifteen layers (and two scarves), he still looked cold.

“Yeah, no more ice sculptures. The things I saw done to my face...” He gave a jerky shudder. “Never before have I felt so violated.”

Potter's lips quirked upwards. “Alright then,” he began, voice husky and a little rougher than usual, “all in favor of no ice sculptures next time, say aye.”

“Aye,” everyone but Dom chorused together.

“You guys just don’t know the meaning of class,” she grumbled, kicking a nearby mound of snow and sending swirls of cold powder everywhere. As Dom continued to march forward, evidently distressed over us revoking her party planning rights, I couldn't help but chuckle. With friends like these, who needs a loony bin?

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one amused by Dom's temper tantrum. Potter had given a little snort of laughter, and for one brief, terrifying second, we locked eyes, a beam of understanding stretching between us. Something inside my chest gave a little twitch.

Confused and a bit dazed, I quickly flitted my gaze to the ground and tried to hide the beet red of my cheeks. But Potter didn’t stop staring, just continued to bore white-hot holes through the back of my skull, his face unreadable behind his sunglasses. Damn it all.

This little exchange had gone unnoticed by the rest of the group, which was just as well, because so had all of Potter and I’s other awkward, tension-laden interactions. Like a couple days ago, when we had been eating breakfast and Potter’s knee accidentally knocked into mine under the table. I had sent a mouthful of orange juice spewing everywhere, and while everyone else dried themselves off, attributing the incident to another ‘Spaztastic Aggy Moment,’ Potter had caught my gaze and shot me a tiny, baneful, knowing little smirk.

Ever since the snog, I’d decided to go the tried-and-tested ‘avoid all problems until they blow up in your face’ route. So while Potter remained about as cool as a cucumber, I was ducking down random corridors and using first years as human shields whenever I spotted a shock of tousled black hair, or a red-and-gold tie. I was jumpy, paranoid, jittery... And despite all my duck-and-cover precautions, I still couldn’t avoid Potter forever because Aidan was back, and that meant the five of us were hanging out... All. The. Time.

So Potter and I would lock eyes, and I’d choke on my drink. Or he’d accidentally brush his arm against mine, and I’d jump away like I’d just received a 3000-volt shock—which, incidentally, was what skin-on-skin contact with him actually felt like. And while Potter seemed to be enjoying himself immensely (I swear he was doing some of these things on purpose, just to watch me squirm), I was about two days away from a mental breakdown.

We had to talk, that much I knew. Because I was driving myself crazy with all of these unknowns running through my head, analyzing every glance, every word that passed between us. Not to mention the fact that I was still sorting out my feelings—a feat easier said than done, let me tell you. I was angry and shocked and panicky and just...confused. I mean, how could we have gone from hating each other to snogging each other just like that? No prelude, no warning... Just like that. It didn’t make even a modicum of sense. And why was Potter so...unfazed? It was like what happened didn’t mean anything to him, whereas I was barely struggling through the aftermath of it all.

And while my Slytherin non-confrontational side was dreading the thought of walking up to Potter and striking up a conversation (I mean, what was I going to say... ‘Hey, so we snogged a couple days ago and I’m just wondering what you thought about it? Or if you even remembered it at all?’), I knew it had to be done. There was only one other option: spiraling downwards into insanity.

Dom suddenly jumped up in front of me, jerking me out of my little mental-tirade. She gave a sharp gasp—I could practically see the light bulb going off in her head—and snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it! I have an idea for the next party!”

The rest of us stopped in our tracks, exchanging wary glances. This could not be good. A look of solemn concern on his face, Freddy cleared his throat and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Dom,” he said gently, “We already told you—we’re not getting a moon bounce.”

She shook her head furiously, “No, no, I’m talking about something bigger. Something better than a moon bounce.”

Aidan’s eyebrows crept up his forehead in apprehension. “Er, better than a moon bounce? Is that possible?”

Dom nodded, a demonic smile slowly stretching across her face. Suddenly, the air around us seemed to get much colder. I could practically feel everyone hold their breath as we all waited, hesitantly, for my best friend to announce her next psychotic scheme.

“Yes, Freddy,” she purred. “I’m talking about a costume party.”

—*—

Six hours later, Dom was already regretting her proclamation.

“Too tacky! Too bland! Too—argh! I haven’t a thing to wear! I might as well just go naked!”

I watched, poker-faced, as my best friend threw the entire contents of her wardrobe into the air in frustration. Brightly-colored scraps of lace, satin, sequins — and oh Merlin, was that white pleather? — all fluttered through the air in a quasi-whirlwind of clothing... And in the eye of the storm was Dominique Weasley, her face glowing pink with distress, wearing nothing but a wonder-bra, a pair of booty shorts and, curiously enough, a pink feather boa.

During The Great Typhoon of Dom’s Wardrobe, a sheer camisole thing had fallen on my head. I picked it off and let it drop to the ground. “Dom, calm down. We’ll find you something.”

“No we won’t! I’m a fat ugly troll and nothing will look good on me! Whose idea was it to have a bloody costume party anyway?”

I decided that saying ‘umm... yours?’ would probably not be beneficial to Dom’s crisis right now, so I just sat tight from my perch on her bed, my lips zipped closed.

Turns out, though, that I didn’t have to say anything, because she suddenly sprung upwards excitedly, an idea dawning her. “Oh, I’ve got it! I’ll just wear my black leotard and go as catwoman! Yes, I’m a genius!”

I wanted to say something encouraging to this, but all I could manage was, “You own a leotard?’

“Yeah, it’s leather.”

“Leather?” I choked, “What would you even do with a leather leotard?” But my disbelief went unheard as Dom started to search frantically throughout our dormitory like a mother who had just lost her child in a supermarket, muttering furiously to herself all the meanwhile. She overturned chairs, looked under beds, behind dressers...all in search for this beloved leather leotard.

What has my life come to. Seriously. I would like to know.

“Got it!” Dom emerged, victorious, from behind her dresser, clutching some shiny, slick-looking material. She waved it about, dangling it in front of my face. “What do you think?”

The leotard simply screamed 'Dom.' ‘Ta-da!’ it seemed to say, glinting coquettishly in the light like a disco ball. One only needed to imagine the jazz-hands and Cabernet music that went with it, and the whole spectacle was complete.

But if there was anyone who could pull it off, it’d be Dominique Weasley.

“Perfect,” I said.

Dom winked, cocking a saucy hip, and grinned. “I know.”

As she wiggled into her costume, I flopped backwards on the bed, huffing an exasperated sigh. It was ten o’ clock, thirty minutes before the party was supposed to start, and I still hadn’t decided what I was going to wear. While Dom could show up wearing nothing but a barrel and some tube socks and still look gorgeous, I was utterly clueless to this whole ‘sexy-sultry thing.’ Plus, I didn’t own a costume, nor was I creative enough to think up of an original idea.

In short, I was screwed.

I stayed like that for a while, sprawled across Dom's bed, staring at the velvety, emerald green canopy above me, as my best friend did her makeup and put the finishing touches on her catwoman costume—a tail, some ears, even a cute pink nose. When she was finally done, it was about ten twenty. I still didn't have a costume but Dom—her eyes all sultry and smudged with silver eye shadow, skin exfoliated and moisturized to a sheen, peachy glow, and honey and rose tresses spiraling into perfect, so-shiny-I-can-see-my-reflection waves—looked absolutely stunning.

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy, which provided a nice accompaniment to the tidal wave of dread currently churning around in my stomach. Potter was going to be at this party, no doubt in some ridiculous getup, being doted on by a bunch of giggly girls wearing skimpy costumes... In comparison to them, I might as well go to the party dressed like a hobgoblin.

Dom, who had been glued to the mirror for the past twenty minutes while trying to perfect her eyeliner, suddenly whipped around. “Aggy!” she cried out, realization dawning. “You’re not dressed yet!”

“Nope,” I said matter-of-factly from my spread-eagled position on her bed.

“Well what are you going to wear?”

“Nooooo idea.” Okay, so maybe I wasn’t exactly putting my 110% effort into this. Sue me. There were dozens and dozens of girls out there who could out-gorgeous, not to mention out-slut, me in so many ways. I mean, they probably knew all the makeup tricks in the book, while I could barely put on eyeliner without blinding myself. I'd never been interested in make up, though I had nothing against girls who were — I'd just always felt like there were more important things besides mascara wands in life (like real wands, for instance).

Dom, in one valiant sweep, cast aside her eyeliner and marched up to the bed, grabbing my wrists and tugging. “Unacceptable. You are getting your lazy-arse over here because we need to find the perfect, just-slutty-enough skirt to show it off. Capiche?”

“Nothing is going to be “showing off” my arse,” I said adamantly, but already Dom had pulled me to a standing position and was rummaging through The Fashion Ground Zero that was our dormitory, looking for something appropriate (or rather, inappropriate) enough for me to wear.

“I know I have something here...” she murmured to herself, tossing clothes hitherto and thitherto. It was really no use though. Just one look at Dom’s perfect hour-glass physique, clad in leather and fishnets, and I knew it was over.

“Really Dom, it’s okay... You don’t need to get me anything. I’m fine the way I am.”

She stopped in her hunt, turning around to shoot me a no nonsense glare. “Don’t be stupid, Agatha. I’ll find something”

“No, seriously, don’t even bother—”

“—no, I said I’ll find something, just wait a sec—”

“Really, it’s no big deal, I can just—”

“Need some help?”

Both of us startled at the familiar voice. Dom dropped the pile of clothes she was holding, straightening up with a ridiculous squeak of leather. “Who’s there?” she said sharply.

Evelyn Stanford’s glossy blonde head peeked out from the drawn curtains of her bed, which Dom and I had previously mistaken to be empty. Her face was thoughtful, eyebrows drawn together, eyes eager and ready to help.

“Is that you, Stanford?” I said unnecessarily, eyebrow raised. My tone was reigned in, not to its full potential of hostility, but there was still an edge to it. An edge that, I’m sure, Evelyn didn’t hesitate to pick up.

“No, it’s Santa Claus,” she snapped back, before swiveling her pointed glare to Dom (or, more specifically, her barely-there outfit), “Ho, ho, ho.”

“Ah, now there’s the Evilyn we know and hate,” Dom retaliated, unfazed by the jab at her virtue, “What does her bitchiness want today?"

Evelyn gave a humorless laugh, pushing back her curtains and stepping daintily onto the hardwood floors. “My senses are picking up a fashion crisis here, and I’d like to offer my assistance.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said flatly. For a minute, I almost considered rushing towards the window to see if there was a herd of pigs flying out there, perhaps playing a casual game of pick-up Quidditch. “You want to help us.”

Evelyn gave an exasperated sigh, obviously fed up with our dim-witted idiocy. She shook out her glossy sheet of hair, cocking a hip—and for a ridiculous moment, I was reminded of Dom from five minutes ago.

“Look,” she began, voice high and snotty like usual. “I know that, for some unfathomable reason, you two seem to share a... dislike of me — ” I snorted at this. “ — but... Well, now that I’m with Freddy, I’d like to... Start over. Make amends. You know. Whatever.”

Oh yeah. Freddy. The guy who not only attempted to expose Cooper Fallon, her then-boyfriend, as a lying, conniving criminal mastermind, but also managed to completely destroy Evelyn's entire social life in the process.

Wow. Until now, I hadn’t truly realized that Freddy had been the inadvertent cause of Evelyn’s exile to Social Siberia. I briefly wondered how he was going to explain that one.

As Dom and Evelyn began arguing over various outfit choices, I slumped down onto the bed, gazing vacantly into the canopy's thick, endless sea of emerald. I felt tired. Not just physically, but emotionally. I felt like a roaring whirlpool of feelings, and like there was no one out there with whom I could talk. Not even Dom, not Freddy, especially not Aidan. I mean, I could barely understand my feelings right now... So how could anyone else? I wasn't a fan of the age-old ‘I’m-an-angsty-teenager-and-nobody-gets-me-blah-blah-blah’ cliché, but that was honestly what it felt like at the moment.

Ever since that kiss, everything had become unbalanced, off-kilter. Potter and I used to have a hate-filled, terribly unhealthy relationship — and I was happy with it. It could have stayed that way and I would have been utterly dandy. But noooo, he just had to go and muck it up like he always did. That seemed to be Potter’s main priority in life. Mucking things up—’things’ being my life, sanity and general well-being, of course. And he was bloody good at it, too. Aidan had just woken up. My friends and my life were finally being pieced back together...And yet here I was, in a perpetual state of inner rant, agonizing over one, simple little snog. Honestly, only Potter could turn a kiss into some kind of psychological warfare tactic. That took skill.

Everything was supposed to be good right now, and yet I was unhappy.

I couldn't keep up with this vicious cycle of... Of whatever you could call this. I mean, I was about to 'go and get my slut on' (Dom’s words, not mine) so that I could attend a drunken teenage party and make drunken, terribly stupid decisions. I was about to have fun. I wanted to throw caution to the wind, let loose, go wild. No more thinking about Potter or snogs or pointless, troubling feelings. I was fed up with that stuff. There was only thing I wanted to say right now, and that was:

Fuck it.

Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. That was my mantra for the night.

“Potter and I snogged.”

Like I said, fuck it.

Dom and Evelyn, who had been bickering and seemed to be embroiled in some sort of tug-of-war with a red satin skirt, suddenly froze.

I couldn’t look at either of them. I just sat there, staring intently at my cuticles, waiting for the impending explosion. Dom was going to have a fit, of course. Things were going to thrown, glass about to be broken... The dormitory would be a mess after this. The poor house-elves wouldn't know what hit them.

After what seemed like ten agonizing hours, I finally looked up, trying to gauge their expressions. Evelyn’s perfectly arched eyebrows were raised in surprise, her minty green eyes bright and—dare I say it—looking a little impressed. Dom, on the other hand, was completely expressionless. For a moment, her face looked clenched together, just a pile of separate, blank parts that had been constructed into some sort of facade.

And then:

“Oh, cool.”

My heart leaped in amazement as, just like that, Dom shrugged everything off as if it were no big deal and went back to yanking on that red skirt. Evelyn shrugged too and pulled back, and once again they were engaged in that same stupid little game of tug-of-war, grunting and hissing and cussing at each other as if nothing had even happened.

“What?” I said loudly over their endless stream of profanity, rising from the bed. “That’s it?”

I stuck my hands to my hips and turned to my best friend, fixing her with a full-on glare. I mean, was one single exclamation of surprise too much to ask for?

Evelyn’s eyes flickered towards Dom as well, oddly curious, and for a moment we both stared at her. Waiting. I mean, it was no secret that Dominique Weasley had a temper—in fact, I had fully expected her to go all Real Housewives of Orange County on my ass. But here she was, as cool as a cucumber... She’d just found out that I’d snogged my archenemy—and her cousin—without even batting a lash.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Evelyn said, finally letting go of the flimsy garment in her hands. Dom stumbled backwards a bit, as her arm raised to the sky, triumphantly waving her prize.

“No, of course not," Dom remarked as she nonchalantly smoothed out the skirt and revealed it to possess a hemline so short, I could hear my mother cringing from miles away. "I mean, it was about time. Your sexual tension was through the roof. We’ve all seen it coming."

“So you’re not mad?” I asked, voice high with incredulity. I knew I was pushing my luck here, and that I should just accept Dom’s blasé attitude seeing as I’d been expecting much worse. But I couldn’t let it go. It amazed me that Little Miss Drama Queen, the girl who practically went through a three-act tragedy whenever she broke a nail, was acting... cool about this.

“Mad? Why would I be mad? Fred owes me three galleons now!”

“Three gall—Wait, what?” My mouth dropped open as, from next to me, Evelyn guffawed. “Are you telling me you guys bet on this happening?”

"Well, I bet on this happening. Fred thought it would take another two years before you guys finally succumbed to your hormones," Dom shrugged casually. "Hence, three galleons."

There was a long moment as I grappled for words, looking between Dom and Evelyn, trying to make sense of it all. Finally, I grabbed my best friend by the shoulders, turning her roughly to me so I could look her dead in the eye. “Dom, I don’t think you understand.”

“What’s there to understand?” She scoffed. “You guys smooched, I get three galleons, those dragon-hide boots on sale at Madam Malkin's are now finally mine. End of story. Now can we please get back to outfit-planning?”

“Outfit-planning? How can you be thinking of outfit-planning at a time like this?”

“Well, I for one do not want to show up at this party looking like Drabby McGrannyPanties. I mean, Aidan’s going to be there. And Potter...! Don’t you want to get dressed up for your man, Aggy?”

Evelyn snorted at this.

“My man? No, no, no... no! I don’t think you understand, Dom. Potter isn’t my man.”

“So he’s just your snog-buddy then?”

“I—no! Shut it, Evelyn!”

“Just trying to help, you don't need to have a cow...”

“The only cow around here is you!” Okay, not my best comeback, but it was the best I could do on short-term notice.

Before Evelyn and I could dissolve into more bickering, Dom gently peeled my hands off her shoulders, clasping them together in her own. Surprised by the strangely maternal nature of this action, I suddenly fell silent.

“Look, Agatha.” Her pear-green eyes were, for once, gentle and soft. “I know that you and Potter are...complicated. And I know that, what with everything that’s been happening lately, things are all different and muddled and scary for you... But tonight’s not the night to worry about that. Tonight’s the night to do something crazy, like dance drunkenly on a table, or take fashion advice from Evelyn Stanford. And trust me, that's the pinnacle of craziness."

“Offence taken,” Evelyn piped up dryly, eyebrow cocked in flat disdain.

“What I’m trying to say here," Dom continued, shooting Evelyn a withering glance. "Is that sometimes you just have to forget about the big stuff and be someone else for a while."

Apparently, 'someone else' in this situation meant 'sexy Halloween kitten.' Needless to say, this did not have me feeling very reassured.

“Dom —” I began, but was cut off as Evelyn smoothly intercepted.

"Look, as tender and wonderful as this Best Friend moment is," she said, words paper-dry with irony. “The party’s about to start. So why don't we move this conversation to the Room of Requirement — or, more specifically, the bar inside the Room of Requirement? Because I seriously need a Firewhiskey in my hand if I'm going to listen to you two whine on and on for the rest of the night."

“Oh right!” I exclaimed, feeling my spirits suddenly stir with hope. Evelyn's words had just given me the perfect idea for a way out of this party. “As much as I hate to admit it, Evelyn’s right. The party starts in five minutes, and I still have no idea what to wear. So how about you guys go ahead, and I'll catch up with you later — ?"

Dom turned towards Evelyn, a slow grin creeping across her face. Much to my amazement — and fear (seriously, were they really bonding over this?) — the two shared a look. A look that I did not like at all.

“Not so fast, Aggy. We have just the thing for you...”

I should probably be worried. I mean, best case scenario, they were going to put me in a super tiny outfit that had my arse hanging out one end and my cleavage bursting out the other. I was probably going to spend the night fidgeting in a too-tight, too-short dress as random blokes ogled at me and Aidan looked up the names and addresses of all the different nunneries in our immediate area.

I should probably be worried.

But as I watched Dom and Evelyn start to frantically whisper to each other, no doubt planning out the next steps of my slutty metamorphosis, I found myself not caring. In fact, I was almost growing a little...giddy. I mean, here I was, healthy, alive, with two of the craziest girls in all of Hogwarts (one of whom was wearing a leather leotard), and the night just beginning. We were about to go to a party and see our friends and, more importantly, I was about to see Potter.

Honestly, I had no idea what was in store for the three of us, but all of a sudden I was looking forward to finding out.

—*—

First rule of RoR parties:

Don't talk about RoR parties.

Second rule: once you’re in a RoR party, you’re in. There’s no coming out unless you are completely one-hundred-percent sober (trust me, there are tests). We wouldn’t want Filch to find some drunken teenager roaming around the castle at two thirty in the morning, now would we? That’d just be poor taste. Please keep the drunken wanderings within the pre-approved confines of the premises.

Last, and most important, rule: what happens in a RoR party stays in a RoR party. You hooked up with so-and-so’s boyfriend last night? Gave a third-year an inebriated, impromptu lap-dance while everyone else cheered on? Too bad. Next morning, no one’s going to want to hear about it. Don’t mention it in class, in the hallways, in the Great Hall during breakfast (everyone’s too hung-over to speak anyways). No one. Wants. To. Hear. It. Anything that goes down in the RoR is left in the RoR, and that’s just the way it is.

Most of the time, anyway.

I had to hand it to the Tweedle Trio (god, I'd missed calling them that), they knew how to throw a party. Walking into the Room of Requirement was a transformative experience. The only way I could describe it was that it was like getting concussed, if concussions involved flashing lights, thumping dance music and screaming intoxicated youth.

The room was cavernously huge, high-ceilinged with old-fashioned, Gothic arches that contrasted starkly with the rave-style interior decoration. There was a giant banner stretching from one wall to the other, proclaiming, ‘CONGRATS ON NOT BEING DEAD, AIDAN!’ in glow-in-the-dark, flashing letters. But it was barely visible, seeing as the entire room had been bathed in black-light. Which basically meant that you couldn’t see a thing, save for the occasional flash of white clothing or neon paint, which was conveniently splattered everywhere—on the walls, on the floor—people were even squirting it at each other in little ‘paint battles.’

Above us sprawled a replica of a starry sky, except instead of giving off the normal serene ‘twinkle-twinkle, each star was a miniature strobe light that pulsed wildly to music, flashing white light onto the top of peoples’ heads, outstretched arms and drink glasses. Everyone danced together, bumping and gyrating in a highly inappropriate fashion. A techno beat grinded out from invisible speakers, so loud it made my skull shake and my thoughts rattle.

As we entered the room, Evelyn let loose a very loud expletive, her sharp eyes taking in our surroundings, but it went unheard over all the music. Next to her, Dom whistled slowly. “Merlin’s Beard, how many people do you think are here?”

I couldn’t bother counting. First of all, it was too dark. And second of all, the pulsing crowd was so big it’d be impossible to do so. “No idea,” I yelled over the music, “I didn’t know this many people actually went to Hogwarts.”

“Fuckin’ A,” Evelyn nodded in agreement, “Now lets go get some drinks.”

We started to make our way across the room towards the RoR’s giant, gleaming bar. It was very chic-looking, what with it’s eye-assaultingly bright violet colour and the so-cool-I’m-bored-right-now seventh year who was standing behind it, juggling vodka bottles in front of a crowd of squealing fourth-year girls.

But before we could make it to what seemed like Hogwarts’ secret end-of-the-world stash of hoarded alcohol, we were intercepted by Freddy and Aidan, who had appeared out of nowhere and, by the looks of it, were completely hammered.

“Ladies!” Aidan roared, whipping an arm around Dom’s shoulders and practically tipping over in the process. “What a pleasure to see you guys, hope you enjoy the party and OH MY GOD AGATHA, FOR MERLIN’S SAKES COVER YOURSELF!”

“Shit, dude!” Fred exclaimed, taking in my outfit in one, appreciative glance. My mouth dropped open, not in outrage, but in a grim, scoffing smile. I had expected this.

“Nice to see you too,” I said coolly, cocking my head to the side. I knew I was wearing one of the most ridiculous get-ups in the world, but I refused to be self-conscious about it. Dom was right. Today, I was going to be someone else. I was going to be...

“A Sexy Librarian?” Aidan moaned, slapping an exaggerated hand to his forehead, “Seriously?”

Yes, seriously. The costume had been Evelyn's—she'd dug it up from her wardrobe after a couple minutes of searching—so of course it was skimpy, absurd and managed to cover about as much skin as a lingerie set, or two strategically-placed handkerchiefs.

As of now, I was wearing a low cut button-down shirt, which by itself would have been fine... Except that it was tucked inside a clingy, so-tight-it-might-as-well-be-painted-on black skirt. Of course, this wasn’t enough. We just had to amp it up to the next level...Literally. So the aforementioned skirt was not only sinfully tight, but also sinfully short — hiked up far enough to reveal two lacy black garters and a pair of stockings, which then streamlined down my waxed, exfoliated, and tanned legs to meet a pair of the tallest, most lethal, most incapacitating stilettos I’d ever seen. Or worn, for that matter.

To top off the whole look, Evelyn had pinned a fake, miniature tie to my collar. The tie served no purpose, though I guess its teeny size was keeping in theme with the rest of the outfit.

“Doesn’t it suit her? Isn’t ‘sexy librarian’ just perfect for Aggy?” Dom giggled, ducking underneath Aidan’s arm to come and spin me around. Reluctantly, I let her, mostly because I was too tired to put up a fight, but also because if I made any sudden movements in these heels, I would most likely kill myself. And all those around me.

“Aren’t you guys proud?” Evelyn glided up next to Dom and held out her arms, displaying me in a grand gesture a lá Ivana White. The movement actually went well with her costume, which was ‘1920s Hollywood Star.’ Wearing a slinky, midnight blue gown with just the right amount of skin shown, and her hair in perfect, sultry waves, Evelyn looked dewy and fresh and beautiful. I swear, the chick must drink protein shakes made with unicorn piss and the blood of young virgins every morning, because there was no way her skin could look that clear on its own.
Ever the catwoman, Dom gave a coquettish smile, wiggling her hips a little. “It’s absolutely purrrrfect...”

As everyone else groaned at the joke—seriously, purrfect? In the vast world of cat-related humor, could she do no better?—Aidan shook his head, exasperated. Though I guess the movement was too much to handle in his intoxicated state, because without Dom there for support, he went stumbling backwards, trying to regain footing and a sense of physio-spatial awareness. “I still — hic — can’t believe — hic — you’re wearing that, Aggy.”

“And what are you wearing?” I shot back. It was a completely legitimate question, because I honestly had no idea. It looked like my brother had cut a hole in a big sheet, painted some giant polka dots on it, and then decided to wear it like a rain poncho. Needless to say, I was left a bit bewildered.

Aidan held out his arms, affronted. “I’m Twister!”

“What?”

“Allow me to explain.” Fred stepped forward, carrying a bottle of Firewhiskey and looking suave in a tux and bow tie—James Bond, I was guessing. “You know Twister, right? The famous muggle game and pastime? Also known as the best thing to happen to birthday parties since the humble pińata? Well...That's Aidan.”

Aidan nodded vigorously. “Twister!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It was a silly idea, sure, but I was in too good of a mood to be pissy about it. Sure, if my mother saw what I looked like right now she'd probably have a myocardial infarction, but I wasn't going to worry about that. My schoolmates were here, dancing their arses off, and I was about to join them. Everything was okay... or going to be, at least. “Are you serious?”

“Are you? I can’t believe you’re actually wearing that,” Freddy remarked conversationally as he slowly gravitated towards Evelyn, wrapping an arm around her waist and nestling his chin on her shoulder. Evelyn smiled contentedly at the action—like an actual, real smile—and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little at the sickening cuteness.

I shrugged. “Sorry, Mr. 007. But I can safely say that I was held under duress the whole time. I had no choice but to comply.”

“Is that so?” Fred murmured, turning his head and cocking a knowing eyebrow at Evelyn, who responded with a devilish smile.

“Yeah,” she said softly, reaching up on her tiptoes to gently press her lips against his. He kissed back for a moment, before pulling away slightly to turn her body more towards him so they could resume in a full-out snog.

“Ew, kissing! Gross!”

“Seriously, get a room.”

“Yeah, if we wanted an up-close-and-personal with Fred's salivary glands, we’d just go and watch him sleep. He drools, you know.”

“Oi! Do you mind? I’m trying to kiss my girlfriend!”

“Whatever, mate.”

Fred and Evelyn soon drifted off, presumably to play a hearty round of tonsil-tennis, which left me, Dom and Aidan.

“Well, I’m going to go dance! Bye!” And with that, Dom bounded off too, her cat tail wiggling in the air.

“Guess it’s just you and me, sis.” Aidan slung an arm over my shoulder, dragging me towards him. His breath smelled like fruity alcohol, his hair rumpled and disheveled.

“Guess so.”

“I still can’t believe you’re wearing that. Sexy Librarian, Jesus Christ.”

“Your bloodstream is probably 80% Firewhiskey right now,” I said dryly. “It’s not like you’re going to remember any of this tomorrow morning.”

“Lucky Aidan,” a voice interjected, and we both turned around to see Potter, wearing a pair of dark jeans and a grey shirt, ambling towards us. He was referring to my get-up, obviously, and the expression on his face was a picture-perfect example of the word 'derision' and all its synonyms.

I tried not to flush, aware that, under any normal circumstances, this would be my cue to blush, fidget uncomfortably, and then storm off in a huff. But nothing about this party was normal. So instead, I looked Potter in the eye and straightened, changing the topic in a very transparent (but effective) attempt at deflecting attention. "And what are you supposed to be, Potter?"

Potter held out his arms as if it should be obvious, but I just stared blankly at him. Despite the confusion, I had to admit he looked good. His hair was carelessly tousled to the perfect degree of disheveledness. The sleeves to his shirt were rolled up, revealing tanned forearms, his shoulders a wordless endorsement for five years of hard Quidditch training.

“I’m a muggle,” Potter stated simply.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Aidan nodded along faintly, obviously tuning out the details and, uh, subtler tensions of the conversation “Genius, innit? Anyway, I have to go... I see a couple of fourth-year girls who might need help, ah, with directions and whatnot. Smell ya later, Aggs!”

And with that, my brother stumbled off, wrapping his arms around the aforementioned fourth-years and exclaiming loudly, "Now which one of you ladies wants to put their right hand on green?”

Wow. Glad to know that’s in my gene pool.

There was a moment of silence as Potter and I stood there, sizing each other up with hard jaws and squinty eyes. For a moment, I considered running off like Dom had... But I knew that I had to face this. I mean, this was why I was here. To talk to him. Right?

"Nice miniature tie," Potter finally quipped as he swilled around the half-empty drink in his hand. "Didn't know librarians normally wore those."

"But the garters and five-inch stilettos you found believable," I grumbled, in no mood for another verbal-fencing match.

The left side of Potter's mouth tilted upwards. "Nope," he said, drawing out the syllable to pop the 'p.'

"Not objectionable in the slightest?" I pressed on drily.

Potter leaned against a nearby wall, shoving his free hand into his pocket as he adopted a mock-somber look on his face. "I never object to garters and five-inch stilettos, Bennett."

My eyes narrowed at the flirty undertone, just detectable, in his comment. What exactly was this kid playing at here? For the past few days, he had been pushing the boundaries, enjoying watching me squirm at any passing graze or accidental eye-contact between us. I was an easy target for him; while he obviously didn't give our kiss a second thought, I was making my discomfort plainly visible.

"James! Aggy!"

The two of us turned around as Fred and Evelyn, evidently having sucked face to satisfaction, bounded over to us hand-in-hand. In their costumes, they looked years older, like the type of classy couple that might host fancy dinner parties for international diplomats and famous artists. They looked sophisticated.

"What are you guys doing just standing around? Time to do some shots, bitches!"

Nevermind.

The only thing that sounded worse than 'a shot,' right now, was 'shots' plural. I hastily backed away, as if the prospect were something physical in front of me, palms held upwards defensively and trying my best to maintain equilibrium on the tiny soles of Evelyn's stilettos.

"I'm not really a shots kind of gal, you guys," I said with as much cheeriness as I could muster, but Fred was already giving me that look — the very same look he acquired whenever he thought of a great prank idea, the same look that once, in third-year, ended us up in the Shrieking Shack with a stolen goat, five metric tons of bleu cheese and an arrest warrant in Freddy's name. Don't ask.

"It's happening, Aggy," Freddy said seriously.

I gulped, suddenly recalling those PSA commercials about peer pressure that they used to show in primary school. 'Just say no' didn't seem like it would work on Freddy Weasley. After all, Fred had a pretty limited vocabulary aready, most of which was composed of singular syllables and words that Fred liked to make up ("If you can be disgruntled, why can't you also just be 'gruntled?'). Unfortunately for me and the nation's War Against Drugs, 'no' was not a part of aforementioned vocabulary.

In contrast to my inner freak-out, Potter did not seem to have a problem with these new developments. Calm and cool like always, he downed whatever was left in his glass in one quick, easy tilt. "What are we drinking?" he asked, and his nonchalance only served to make me more anxious.

I was able to do nothing as Freddy grabbed me and Potter by the arm and all but frog-marched us to the bar, Evelyn trailing behind us as she boredly inspected her nail beds. I looked on with the same vague sense of horror as a bystander at a car accident while Fred ordered four shots of tequila from the seventh-year behind the bar. Oh Merlin. This could only end in trouble. Trouble, and vomit.

Fred passed around the shot glasses, lime slices and salt shaker, his light green eyes glowing eerily in the black-light. I'd never taken a tequila shot before, and was thrown off by the extra ingredients and what seemed like an over-complication of a, theoretically, pretty simple process. I hadn't thought alcohol involved any other steps besides 1) Drink it and 2) Try to keep it down and 3) Repeat steps one and two.

I tried my best to follow Freddy's lead, aware that Potter was watching, his eyes slanted towards me in amusement. Salt on one hand, tequila in the other, lime in the... Wait, I'd run out of hands. This whole process was almost ritualistic in how many steps it had. Like a religious ceremony. Except with, you know, binge-drinking.

And I'd be damned if I were going to make a fool out of myself in front of Potter.

Fred held out his shot glass, exuberant. "To a good night," he exclaimed. Hand trembling only slightly, I raised mine to meet his, and we all cheers'd, and before I knew it the alcohol was suddenly not in the glass and now in my mouth.

Disgusting. It tasted like someone had taken fermented apple juice, added cayenne peppers and a little bit of hot sauce, and then thrown out the concoction and decided to slap a tequila label on a bottle of lighter fluid instead. I somehow choked it down, feeling a tiny bit dribble down my chin, and my eyes watered.

Evelyn slammed her glass down on the bar, grinning coquettishly, almost as if she liked the feeling of her esophagus being singed to bits. Potter set his down next, then Freddy, who was muttering a creative mix of expletives.

I gingerly placed my glass on the counter, wiping at my mouth with the back of my hand. I could not seem to rearrange my face back into its normal expression.

"Did you like?" Fred heartily clapped me on the back, which did not feel good for my already-traumatized throat. I nodded, trying not to throw up my trachea. Whenever I heard people say 'keep it down' in relation to alcohol, I always just thought they meant the alcohol. I didn't know internal organs would be involved.

"Yeah, Bennett, did you like it?" Potter raised his eyebrows. The mocking tone in his voice was barely discernible.

I swallowed. "Mmm, yeah," I lied, fully aware that I sounded like a recording of The Batman's voice getting tossed down a garbage disposal. "Alcohol is... great. I love alcohol. I would like another alcohol, please."

Potter's eyes met mine. His gaze was coal-dark, his mouth curved into a dangerous half-smile. I held his stare, determined not to let him see my doubt, my fear. Like Dom said, now was the time to forget about my troubles, to be someone else. That someone else turned out to be Aggy the Sexy Librarian, and Aggy the Sexy Librarian would not back down from a challenge.

"Great," Potter said, before turning back to the bar. "We'll have two more rounds."

...Crap.

—*—

An hour later and I was stumbling through the crowd, trying and failing to remember who the current Queen of England was and also my middle name. Somewhere between shots numbers four and five, I had ditched the others and managed to find Dom. This was not an improvement, as Dom seemed just as dedicated to plying me with drinks in the name of teenage delinquency. But she had also dragged me to the dance floor and there, amid the grinding bass and other joyous party-goers, I had found myself enjoying things despite the tequila (and rum, and vodka, and Firewhiskey) sloshing in my stomach.

After about two straight hours of dancing, Dom and I had decided to take a break. We stumbled out of the crowd, gulping for air and laughing hysterically about some comment Dom had made that I wouldn't realize wasn't actually funny until the next day. Those shots — combined with the throbbing beat of the music — were making my head spin.

“I’m going to get us more to drink.” Dom giggled.

“No, you can’t!” I shook my head frantically, then stopped when I realized that 'alcohol' and 'sudden movements' were not a good mix.

“No, I have to! It's a matter of life and debt! Er, wife and death! No — life and death!” Dom rambled drunkenly as I tried to grab her and drag her back.

In what I was pretty sure was a combination of Quidditch strength-training and sheer will, Dom suddenly lunged forward and broke free of my grip, sending me reeling backwards and landing with an ungraceful ‘oomph!’ on the floor.

Sprawled out on my back on the floor, I blinked several times, vaguely acknowledging the fact that I should be feeling pain right now but wasn't, and that this was probably not a good sign. The artificial stars on the ceiling swam above me, and my eyelids drooped downwards as Dom wandered off towards the bar, either not knowing or not caring that I had fallen. I couldn't find it in myself to be mad at her for abandoning me. This actually felt... nice. Lying beneath the stars... How romantic.

“Well isn’t this just charming?”

I opened eyes to see two shiny black shoes, and then a pair of pinstripe slacks. The rest was shrouded in darkness.

I struggled to prop myself up on the elbows, but apparently I didn’t need to, because all of a sudden the mysterious figure bent down, grabbing me by the arms, and hoisted me up in one sweeping movement.

“Hey, don’t woman-handle me!” I cried indignantly, but my voice suddenly died in my throat as I came face to face with Fallon Cooper.

No.

This was not good.

Cooper was wearing a fedora, a cigarette dangling lazily out of his mouth. Stuck to the lapel of his pinstripe blazer was a red rose. He had dressed as a mafia member, one of the Godfather characters. And while I would normally find a costume like that to be laughably stupid... Right now, it was downright terrifying.

Because I knew what Cooper was capable of. And it was definitely very Godfather-esque.

"Let go of me,” I croaked.

Smirking, Cooper released his grip on me, holding out his hands in surrender, and I went staggering backwards. “Why so serious, Agatha?" he jeered. "You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“What do you want?” My voice was trembling. I desired nothing more than to just turn around and walk away, but I couldn’t.

Something kept me there, rooted to the spot. Maybe it was the need to prove that I wasn’t afraid, that he couldn’t faze Aggy the Sexy Librarian. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was sheer stupidity. Or a combination of all the above. But whatever it was had me frozen, paralyzed.

Cooper came closer to me, his harsh, angular face obscuring my vision. His breath smelled like stale smoke, his mouth was twisted into an ugly leer. “I think you know what I want, Agatha.”

I stared at him, jutting my chin out in a half-arsed attempt at defiance. “No, actually, I don’t.”

He gave a quiet laugh that made my stomach clench. “For a Slytherin, you sure are naive. Don’t you realize, Agatha? Your brother might be safe for now, but that doesn’t mean you are.”

My stomach plummeted as fear, so cold it was hot, crept up my legs. Quickly, my eyes darted around in search of a saviour, someone who could pull me out of this situation (shouldn’t Dom be back by now?). They landed on Potter a few feet away, joking and talking in a rowdy circle with his Quidditch teammates. As saviours went, Potter would not be ideal. His bad temper, and the almost-empty drink glass currently in his hand, were two indicators of that.

As if he could feel my gaze like a tangible, heavy thing, Potter turned around, and we made eye contact. It took him two seconds to register the conversation in front of him and its participants. My dismay took on a new dimension as his easygoing smile began to fade and he handed his drink to the bloke next to him, beginning to walk in our direction, jaw set in a way that meant trouble. Cooper seemed to notice too, as he had followed my gaze and a grimace began to curl at his mouth.

"Is there a problem?" Potter’s expression voice was casual, but his posture was rigidly set, shoulders tight and alert as he came to stand by me.

Cooper glowered, his face turning scarily dark. He glanced angrily between Potter and I. It was plainly evident that he did not want to pick a fight around Potter, and for a strange, fleeting moment, he looked like he was about to scream. Or hit one of us. But he simply gave me a scathing look that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and then turned around to walk away.

Once his back was to us, I whipped around to face Potter. I sincerely hoped my slitted eyes and clenched jaw would be enough to mask the fear roiling in my stomach.

"What are you doing, Potter? I have the situation under control."

"That wasn't what it looked like."

"You're drunk right now."

"You're drunk right now."

"I — you're drunk right now!"

"Good point."

Sick of our pointless arguing, I prepared myself to turn around and leave when, suddenly, Cooper halted in his tracks. Potter and I both snapped our mouths shut, suddenly stiff and wary as Cooper turned around and began calmly striding back towards us. This could not be good.

He planted himself right in front of me, his tall figure hulking over my small one, and I tried not to flinch while he looked me up and down, spat on the ground in front of my shoes, and hissed, “Slag.”

Big mistake.

It was a lightening fast movement. One second, Potter was standing across from me as we bantered, the next, the small smirk had slid off his face and he had Cooper against the wall, expression contorted with fury.

“What did you just say?” he said, voice tight. Cooper gave a half-yelp, struggling to escape, but it was no use.

My heart leaped in my chest. Never before had I seen Potter look so serious. He was glowering, his jaw set in stone. “Potter!" I blurted out, not knowing what else to say. But it was like he hadn’t even heard me. I stood uselessly to the side, not knowing whether I should stop this or just stand by and let my archenemy throttle the living shit out of... Well, my other archenemy.

“You even look at her the wrong way, and I will fucking kill you,” Potter said matter-of-factly, and it was the calmness, the completely practical tone in his voice, that made him so freaking terrifying.

“Why so protective of the little whore, Potter? She putting out for you?”

Wrong thing to say. In a flash, Potter let go of Cooper, drew back his arm... And then Fallon Cooper was on the floor, clutching a bleeding nose, while Potter stood above him, looking so scary it was almost ethereal, rubbing the already-bruising knuckles of his right hand.

“Potter! Just leave it!” I cried almost hysterically. I could feel my heartbeat pounding furiously inside my head. Around us, people were starting to stare. They had finally taken notice.

Cooper stumbled to a stand, something dark and rust-colored dribbling down his face, and swung at Potter. Potter ducked, swung back, and soon enough there was a full-on fight breaking out.

I tried to get to Potter, to pull him back, but it was no use. All of a sudden I was swallowed by a mob of people rushing towards the scene, eager to watch two of the most infamous boys at Hogwarts fight it out. Some were trying to break it up, others were cheering and screaming... But I couldn’t see any of it, my vision obscured by heads and backs and shoulders. I was getting pushed backwards, shoved away, and I was screaming, screaming for Potter, panic surging up my throat, trying to figure out what was going on, what the hell was going on...

I turned around and started running. My brain had been swiped clean and blank, and there was no thought, just the sudden urge to leave. All of a sudden I found myself racing outside of the RoR, not stopping until I was outside, down the corridor, and had safely locked myself in one of the numerous broom cupboards of Hogwarts.

I couldn’t breathe. I was panicking. Hands shaking, I yanked my hair down from its mussed up-do, letting it spill down my shoulders. I kicked off my high heels, almost moaning in relief as I finally set my poor feet free from the confines of their strappy, stiletto prisons.

...And then I slumped against the wall, sliding down until I was on the floor, my arms wrapped protectively around my bent knees.

Everything had all happened so fast. Stupid Potter and his rash, Gryffindor decision-making. He had no concept of personal safety, no consideration for the way his actions might affect others. Take shots, throw punches, who cared?

He was an idiot.

Inside the broom cupboard, it was cool and dark, a nice change from the hectic, throbbing heat of the RoR. There was no noise except for the ringing in my ears, and my short, shallow breathing.

Fuck.

Did Potter not know the meaning of hate? Ever since our kiss, he had been acting differently. He wasn't following our usual script of insults and mockery! For Merlin's sakes, he had just tried to defend my honor in a brawl! Oh Merlin... A brawl! He was out there, right now, pummeling Cooper to the ground because of me! And here I was, hiding like a little coward in a broom cupboard... What was wrong with me?

I was going insane. I had to do something. Take action and storm back inside the RoR, grab Potter by the collar and drag him to safety... Where I could slap him hard upside the head for being such a chivalrous, brave, noble, idiot.

When had things gotten so complicated?

I knew that lying in fetal position inside a broom cupboard and asking myself rhetorical questions wasn’t going to help anything. But I just couldn’t imagine myself going out there and facing all of that.... So instead, I decided to stay in my pathetic position for just a wee bit longer—curled in a little ball, my heart racing, mentally berating myself for being such a sodding coward.

I don’t know how much time passed, it seemed like hours and minutes all at once, but eventually I had enough. I was tired, exhausted. All I wanted to do was go to the Prefect’s bathroom, take a scalding hot bath, and then crawl into bed and sleep.

I was just about to make myself stand up, however, when all of a sudden the door was flung open.

"Bennett?"

Great.

Just great.

How is it that Potter always manages to find me at such inconvenient times?

"Do you have a radar, or something?" I asked weakly from the floor.

Potter, silhouetted by the light in the hallway behind him, stepped inside. I wondered how intoxicated he was. "Huh?"

"A radar," I repeated dully. "That tells you when and where to find me whenever I'm at my most pathetic."

Potter bent down and rubbed the side of his ribcage with his right hand, wincing. "I borrowed the Marauder's Map from Fred, Bennett. I wanted to make sure you were alright."

"Alright?! How drunk are you right now?" I stood up quickly, and Potter's hazel eyes warily followed me as I rose up to full height. I didn't know what freaked me out more — the fact that Potter had just embroiled himself in a fight with a murderous, seventh-year Slytherin, or the fact that he was even worried about my well-being.

I was about to say something, probably along the lines of ‘Go away, you sodding fucking idiot,’ but my voice suddenly died in my throat. Because Potter had straightened as well so that he could lift up the hem of his shirt and observe, with an odd, detached kind of curiosity, the massive bruise blooming across his rib cage.

Shit.

It was an ugly blotch of purple and red, marring the otherwise tan skin of his abdomen. It did not look good. At all. In fact, it looked like one of his ribs might be broken.

“Potter, are you okay?” I blurted out, and he dropped the hem of his shirt, rubbing the spot.

I wasn't about to wait for an answer. I walked towards him, crossing the cupboard in two swift strides so we were face to face. I could barely make out his features in the hazy dark, but I knew he was there. Silent. Waiting. I couldn't tell if I felt guilty or furious at the moment.

I stared at the spot where the bruise had been. I couldn’t make myself look away. “Was that...” I paused, sucking in a deep breath, “Because of me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Bennett," Potter said lightly, but I could hear the wince of pain in his voice. "Are we done here?" He reached behind himself, grappling for the doorknob, but I stopped him.

“Don’t,” I grabbed his hand, and surprise flickered across his face. “Potter...”

There was a long, bated silence. Something in my chest seemed to give a funny little jump. We were standing so close...

He leaned back against the door. “Bennett,” he said flatly, and that was answer enough. One word, one single acquiescence...But it seemed to fall between us like a brick.

“You shouldn’t have... have...” I began, but there was nothing left to say.

Slowly, cautiously, I reached up, aware that my body seemed to be rebelling against the orders coming from my frazzled mind, and I kissed him. Very, very lightly. My lips, barely grazing his. Me on tippy toes and him leaning against the door, eyes fluttered shut.

I didn't know why, but at the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

It was hot and fast and fleeting, like a shooting star. It didn’t last very long, but I felt it. Oh, I felt it. That kiss pulled at me from the inside, made my chest clench and my throat ache. It was... different from last time. Scarier. More intimate. Just my body against his, our hearts beating so close together, everything silent inside that tiny broom cupboard except for our breathing.

I pulled away, letting go of his hand. He was staring at me. And I could tell, just by looking at his eyes, that he had felt it too. That strange feeling of being empty and full at the same time. That shooting star.

He leaned back, his head gently thumping against the door. It was eerily quiet, save for my heartbeat, which was sputtering inside my chest.

“Bennett,” he said quietly. “What are we doing?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but he didn’t give me the chance. Because all of the sudden Potter was swiveling us around with surprising speed, pushing me back so that I was the one against the door...and then he was kissing me.

It was more intense this time. Potter’s urgent mouth found mine, his hands clasping my face. It was fast and hard and pure need. And I wanted it. Wanted him. Being this close to him, with my hands against his chest, feeling his heartbeat thrum against my palm... This was the only time when Potter actually felt human to me.

I parted my lips, allowing him to deepen the kiss as his tongue slid between my teeth. We grappled desperately at each other, trying to get as close as possible, tangling together in a hot blur of lips and tongue and touch, all intertwined. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling myself towards him. My head was spinning with that same, heated dizziness that only Potter could make me feel. He was pressing me so hard against the door, I thought we might break it.

I knew what we were doing was wrong, that this wasn’t how I was supposed to fix things, but I couldn’t help it. I was drawn towards him, addicted and intoxicated by the haze and muted heat between us. I needed it, craved it, wanted it...

Then all too soon, Potter was pulling away, his breathing raggedy, eyes dark. We both stared at each other for a second, gasping for air, our lips swollen — the telling giveaway of a good snog.

My mind was trying to catch up with my body. It was moving sluggishly, trying to make sense of what happened. I wish I could find out what Potter was thinking. Finally, after a while of staring, I murmured, “I should go.”

Potter nodded. “Probably.”

For a moment, I lingered, wondering if he was going to stop me. When he didn’t, I turned away and opened the door, slipping into the cool air of the corridor without a backwards glance.



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