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Chapter 27 : Inescapable
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The Hogwarts Express was a cherry-red train that puffed out cheerful marshmallows of grey steam and shuttled happy school-children between their school and their loving families. It looked like the kind of train that could be Thomas the Tank Engine’s jolly best friend, the kind of train that took you on wonderful journeys filled with double rainbows and baby kittens feeding you Girl Scout cookies. It made you feel wholesome, family-friendly and, most importantly, happy.
And at this moment, it was also the train currently zooming me to my demise.
Should I explain? Let me back up a little.
You see, it all started with a letter.
I am writing this with about fifteen minutes to spare before your stepfather and I have to get on our Portkey to the Bahamas. Like I told you before, Arnold and I are so excited to be going there for the holidays. We've practically been counting down the days! Also, I’ll have you know that I’ve been extremely organized in setting this all up. I bought the tickets, made an itinerary, even used your label-maker to put Arnold’s name on all of his boxer shorts (just in case he forgets them)! Can you believe it? Your scatterbrained, frazzled mother.... Labeling things! You would be so proud, darling.
(Now, if only I could find my wand. I misplaced it somewhere last night and haven't seen it since... )
Anyway, enough of me rambling. The point of this letter is to let you know the plan for the holidays. See, given everything that’s happened with your brother recently, I think it might be for the best that this year, the two of you spend Christmas break together. Just for safety’s sake. Obviously I trust Aidan, but you know how he can be. He’s always so... Careless. Absentminded. Forgetful. Honestly, I don’t know where he gets it from.
I just think that everyone would feel much more at ease knowing you'd be there to keep an eye on his health and make sure he’s recovering well. So please, I’m asking you—if it’s not too much trouble, would you mind spending break with Aidan?
Let us pause for a bit.
Now, after reading the first half of this letter, I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, yeah? And if you don’t, you’re at least getting some creeping sense of foreboding, a faint inkling that this can not turn out well for dear Aggy. And you'd be right (because it never does).
You see, since second-year, our family had developed a system for every Christmas break. Mum and Arnold would jet off to some beachy locale to get silly on fruit cocktails and rekindle their love (gag), while I would spend my Christmas at Dom’s. Aidan, of course, would stay over at the Potter house (sorry, mansion), and that was how it had always been.
But not this year. No. This year, I would be spending my Christmas break with Aidan, which also meant I would be spending it with Potter.
Because, yes, folks, my life was that predictable. Once you stripped away all the pesky details and irrelevant facts, you could basically boil my existence down to one unfortunate formula.
(Nearest terrible thing that could happen x Potter) — any sort of fairness/mercy = the life of Agatha Bennett.
Rinse and repeat.
Honestly. I couldn't decide whether my life was some sick joke and this letter was the punchline, or an epic, Macbeth-esque tragedy with this as the creepy foreshadowing of more doom to come. I guess we would just have to see.
Anyway. On with the letter.
Now, I know the original plan for this Christmas was for Arnold and I to go to the Bahamas, Aidan stay at the Potter’s, and you stay with Dominique and her family. And I really would love to stick to that plan, seeing as everyone had been so happy with it. But...
Ah, yes. The elusive ‘but.’ My life would be incomplete without it. In fact, these days, it seemed like I was encountering a new ‘but’ everyday. I could never just have anything good, could I? There was always a string attached, an asterisk tacked on, or a fine print at the bottom.
'Hey Aggy, Ryan Fisher — also known as the guy of your dreams — is your perfect soulmate and your Prefect partner and he would totally go for you... But you’re not a dude.'
Or, ‘Hey Aggy, we’re going to make you Prefect this year, seeing as that’s been your one goal throughout your whole academic career... But we’re also going to make your worst enemy one too!”
I bet if I were to one day win the lottery, the universe would probably be like, ‘Hey Aggy, you can have all these billions of dollars... But only in the form of vouchers for free cat food! Have fun!’
Anyway, I’m getting off topic, yeah? Sorry, that tends to happen when I find out my life has been ruined (again). Continuing with the letter:
So, since Aidan will be staying at the Potters, I would like it if you’d join him there.
If you listened hard enough, you could actually hear the final nail being driven into my proverbial coffin. I was going to be spending seven days—yes, you heard me. Seven. The number after six. The one that ate nine—at James Sirius Potter’s house. Living where he lived. Eating where he ate. Sleeping where he slept.
So I guess now the formula should be changed to:
Aggy + (Potter’s house x two weeks vacation) — any sort of possibility that this might turn out okay = unmitigated disaster.
The letter went on:
I know that you and James share a sort of ‘dislike’ between you (I don’t know why, he’s a very nice boy—and handsome too! Wink wink!), but I’d like you two to at least try and get along, for Aidan’s sake. Sounds good?
Thank you so much, Aggy, you’re a star. You have no idea how much help you’re being.
And you, mother dearest, have no idea how much money this will cost you in future psychotherapy bills. When they lock me away in that nice white-padded room, could you be a star and maybe send me a fruit basket every now and then?
Oh, Arnold just called from downstairs to say that he’s found my wand! It was in the pantry, for some reason.
I wonder how it got there? Odd.
Anyway, I suppose that’s my cue to leave. I’m sorry to change things up on you, Agatha, but I hope you understand it’s for the best. Give your brother my love and say hello to the Potters for me. Also, remember to use your please’s and thank you’s when you’re over there! Manners are important!
I’ll miss you, darling.
Lots of love,
I’ve obviously said it before, but there's no harm in a little repetition for emphasis:
I hate my life.
I clutched the letter tighter in my fist as the train zoomed on through the verdant Scottish countryside, rattling like a heaving, asthmatic beast and causing me to wobble unsteadily as I made my way down the corridor.
Half an hour.
That was, roughly, the time left before this train pulled into Kings Cross and I would be forced to come face to face with the Potter family... And the reality that I’d be staying with them for the next week.
For the train ride, I’d taken to wandering the hallways on half-hearted Prefect patrols, preferring to catch up on my duties rather than sit in a compartment with the rest of the group and have to deal with Potter's presence in such a confined space.
Ever since the party last week, I’d been unable to stay in the same vicinity as him for longer than five minutes — not when I was still grappling with the fact that our kiss, something I had promised myself would be a one-time occurrence, had turned out to be definitively not a one-time occurrence. This was distressing news, and every time Potter and I were together, it was like a full on torture session of trying to act normal, to not stare at his mouth, or his arms, or the way his hand sometimes passed through his black hair (which I knew from experience was very soft—stop it, Agatha). It had gotten to the point where he couldn’t even say something in my general direction without my face turning into a cherry tomato.
Not that it seemed to be bothering Potter in the slightest. During the past week, Potter had regarded me with simple, bland indifference, betraying no sign that he had thought about the two of us. This was different from the usual slew of snark and insults that I usually received from Potter. Now, it was as if he simply didn't notice me. Whenever we were together, his (always unimpressed) gaze would pass through my body like I didn’t exist. When he walked by me in the hallway, he didn’t bother to offer a snide comment or a shoulder shove like normal. No, he would just breeze by me like I was any other classmate, eyes trained forward.
And our conversations were, as always, riveting. From the thrilling, ‘Pass the salt,’ to the absolutely charming, ‘You’re in my way,’ we just couldn’t shut up around each other.
Potter had said six, maybe seven, words to me in total. And that was from the entire past week. While I used to think a silencio’d Potter would be a gift from the heavens, it was actually... Distressing.
So today, I gave it right back to him. For the past hour, I hadn’t bothered to actually sit and relax in our compartment. Not even once. Instead, I’d been mumbling excuses to go to the bathroom, or find the trolly cart, or visit other Prefects. Whenever I poked my head into our compartment and saw Potter reclined all casual and languid-like on the bench, or playing Exploding Snap with Fred and Dom, I immediately ducked out again and left.
James Sirius Potter, meet my shoulder. It’s feeling a bit cold.
Though all of this didn’t change the fact that in half an hour, Potter was going to be inescapable. I was going to have to eat meals with him, spend Christmas with him — hell, we’d probably have to share a bathroom. A bathroom. God knows what kind of airborne diseases I could pick up. At least I'd already had all my injections — fingers crossed that would help me ward off Potteritis (symptoms: excessive arrogance, pratiness, and the propensity to snog innocent girls and then never talk to them again).
I viciously shook my head at the thought and crumpled the letter in my hand, feeling satisfied with its ensuing papery crunch. Leaning against one of the smooth, paneled walls of the corridor for balance, I slowly staggered down the hallway, passing compartments of laughing first-years or gossiping Hufflepuffs. It was amazing how carefree they were. Little did they know that I’d be meeting my demise in thirty minutes time.
Not that I was being dramatic or anything.
Stumbling a little as the train gave a particularly rough lurch (hate you too, Hogwarts Express), I tried to quicken my pace. For this past round of The Avoid Potter Game, I had spent almost forty whole minutes wandering around the train, pretending like I was actually carrying through with my prefect orders. It’d been nice, though I would have to get back to the compartment sooner or later, or else Dom would surely get suspicious.... If she wasn’t already.
“AHHHHH, FUCK YOU, YOU STUPID FUCKING FUCK!”
I gasped as a sudden, far-away scream tore through my ear drums, making me wince involuntarily. What in the world? Turning around from side to side, I could see other kids in their compartments looking around bewilderingly, frowning to themselves.
Immediately, though, I knew just where it had came from. Only one person had a sound-barrier-shattering shriek (and cussing creativity) like that. And that person was Dominique Weasley.
Instinctively, I broke into a run, not caring about the less then steady train or the fact that people were looking. Worst case scenarios flitted through my head — a dementor somehow broke into the compartment, or a band of robbers, or Fallon Cooper —
Oh god. Fallon Cooper. I ran faster.
I knew where we were — second compartment to the last, our usual. Already, I could see a figure was standing in front of the door. Probably one of Cooper’s cronies, making sure no one could get in — or out. Fuck. If he did anything to my best friend, I swear to god I would —
I squinted, trying to see if I was mistaken, or being taunted by an optical illusion. But I wasn’t. The closer I got, the clearer it became. No one else had the same rumpled hair or perfect Chaser’s build — the intangible balance between lithe and muscular. The figure standing in front of the compartment was definitely, unarguably Potter.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Potter looked up from where he was leaning, nonchalant, on the door of the compartment, arms folded languidly across his chest. His eyes were squinted into hazel slits, his mouth a lazy, lopsided curve.
“Open the door, Potter,” I barked before he could so much as blink. My whole body was jittery with anxiety as I hopped from one foot to the other, trying to peek into the compartment through the window. It was no use, though, the shades were drawn. Damnit. “Whatever’s going on, whatever crazy, ridiculous prank you’re playing on Dom, I don’t care. Just open the fucking door.”
Shaking his head, Potter gave a short, almost disbelieving breath of laughter. He kicked himself off the wall, leaning forward as his face — bingo — finally assumed its usual expression of scorn.
“What’s this?” Voice loaded with mockery, he slapped an over-dramatic hand to his chest and turned in fake astonishment from side to side, pretending to check that it was actually him I was talking to. “Agatha Bennett? Acknowledging my existence? Well this is definitely going in today’s diary entry!”
As soon as the sentence was out, he dropped his hand, abandoning the whole star-struck act, and eased back into his previous position of leaning against the door, all bored and insolent. “Don’t bother, Bennett. The door’s closed until I say so.”
Immediately, I felt my chest clench tight in anger, my breathing shallow with hot irritation. "What are you doing in there?" Honestly! This was my compartment too (sort of)! I had rights, okay? He couldn’t just parade around, blockading people from their rooms...It was unjust!
Eyes narrowed, teeth set, I forced myself to meet his flat gaze. “Okay, Potter, while you’re surely enjoying the power rush that comes from being the Super Special Guarder of the Door, I would like to get in. So move out of my way.”
Potter was obviously enjoying this. His chin was tilted upwards as he appraised me with a smug, satisfied gaze, bronzed eyes sparking with enjoyment.
I, on the other hand, was not so happy. I could feel fury, almost as if it were literally tearing through me, like a stinging white-hot gash across my chest. My fists clenched and my blood pounded. It was getting hard to breathe. I just wanted, once, to knock Potter off his high-horse, to win, to not feel so damn helpless anymore.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! YOU BASTARD!”
Another scream from the compartment sliced through the air, and I knew I couldn’t waste my time anymore. I didn’t know what was actually happening in there (most likely some harmless but humiliating prank courtesy of the Tweedle Trio), but if Potter was involved, it couldn’t be good. I had to get in and come to my best friend’s rescue — she would do the same for me.
I went right. So did Potter. I dodged left. He did too. Finally, I made a snap-decision and just dived for the door handle, figuring the only way to pass Potter was to go through him.
This turned out to be a not-so-great idea.
In a flash of motion I could barely register, Potter grabbed my wrists and smoothly wheeled me around. I stumbled backwards, losing balance, and my back crashed into the door. A muffled squeak of protest slipped from my lips, my surprised gaze raising to lock with Potter’s cool one —
And I tried my hardest not to think about our close proximity... Or about the last time this boy had me against a door.
Cue: hysterical internal-monologue.
Oh god. His face was right there. Right there. If I just maneuvered a little closer, I could graze my lips against his, one last time, to feel that shooting star sailing through my body — Roman candles, chemical reactions, blazing meteors, gold sparks showering down like cosmic rain, like chips of sunlight.
Or... I could headbutt him.
Frankly, both options sounded quite tempting.
Potter, on the other hand, seemed completely unaffected by the situation. His expression was flat and bland, though I could see the first signs of annoyance at my aggression, as he spoke:
“Here’s a little tip, Bennett: next time you want to pass someone, try not to lunge directly at them.” With that, he quickly released my wrists, stepping back as if I was something contagious under the subway. I half expected him to wipe his hands on his shirt and Accio some Purell over for good measure.
For a moment, I just stood there, blinking at him dazedly. My mouth dry and scratchy like sandpaper. Since my hands were finally free, I took the opportunity to try the door-handle. It was locked. Surprise, surprise.
“Is this how you treat all your guests?” I bit out as I reached behind me, viciously jangling the handle some more, to no avail.
He shrugged. “Just think of it as practice for when I lock you out of my actual house.”
I narrowed my eyes, giving up on my efforts to rip the door off its hinges and resorting to my normal arms-folded, hip-cocked stance. First he was kissing me, than he was ignoring me, now he was threatening me with eviction. I couldn't keep up with Potter's emotional acrobatics, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what went on inside that boy's head.
“And here I was thinking that somewhere deep down, underneath all those layers of soot and dust, you had a heart," I hissed. "Oops, my bad.”
“Oh, burn.” Potter’s voice was bored and sarcastic as he shoved his hands into his pockets, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards — but there was irritation in his eyes. “Now, tell me — this thing where you insult the person whom you want something from — does it work often?"
My face twisted itself into a sneer. “It’s not exactly an insult if it’s true.”
His hazel eyes veered towards the ceiling. “You should really double-check your definition of ‘insult.’ And while you’re at it, ‘true.’”
I scoffed. How could this prat have a comeback for everything? It was impossible. And it made me want to throttle him — hard. “Potter, you are so lucky I have morals. Otherwise — ”
“Otherwise what?” Potter stepped forward, voice suddenly dark and smoky with interest. He placed a hand against the door I was leaning on, his languid gaze flicking almost suggestively down my body. In the overflowing sunlight of the train, his features looked like they were traced in gold, the amber sparks in his eyes flickering with fire. Almost imperceptibly, the shadow of a smirk tugged at his lips.
“Otherwise — ” I began, but suddenly it was hard to find my train of thought. Or, for that matter, my voice, because Potter was inches away, staring me down with his uncannily intense golden gaze. I was uncomfortable, and Potter could see this. Argh, why was he so hell-bent on messing with me like this?
I was suddenly aware of every inch of space between us, every shivering molecule of bated, empty air. He was right there, waiting to hear what, exactly, I would do without my pesky morals. All I had to do was tilt my head a little to the side, reach up slightly, curl my fingers around the collar of my shirt and pull him closer...
Cue: hormone implosion.
Everything was silent. The train continued to rumble underneath us.
Potter was playing with me, pushing and probing at all the spots that made me squirm. I was aware of this, and he was aware that I was aware, but none of that made it any less harder to stop fidgeting. Ever since our kiss, Potter had found a new way to get the upperhand — care less. I made it so obvious that this new, physical dimension of our relationship bothered me; I couldn't hide my embarrassment over the kisses, or my regret that they had happened. Potter, on the other hand, maintained his cool. He just smirked and stood by — no, stepped closer — simply because he was strong enough to not let it get to him.
Meanwhile, on the inside, I was brimming with questions and angst. I had so much I wanted to ask. I had no doubt that Potter had a few questions of his own, but he wasn't invested or curious enough to ask them. And we both knew the first person to break down and admit fear or doubt was the loser.
I was just about to cave and push Potter away when, all of a sudden, the door behind me opened.
Without anything to lean on anymore, I went tumbling backwards and into Dom, whose hand was on the door and whose mouth twisted in a confused scowl.
Struggling to right myself, I wheeled around to see Fred and Aidan sitting in the back of the compartment, staring at Potter and me with a mixture of alarm and intrigue. This, plus Dom’s shrewd, ‘I-have-a-sixth-sense-about-these-things-and-I-know-you-were-just-five-inches-and-two-sexual-tension-charged-insults-away-from-snogging-my-pratty-cousin’ glare, was more than a little unnerving.
“Oh,” I said faintly. “Dom. You're alive.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well Bennett was just in the middle of braiding me a friendship bracelet — ” Potter began all obnoxiously, but I cut him off, not even bothering to look at him as I stepped brazenly into the compartment. Dom moved aside, still holding the door, eyebrows raised in expectation.
“I heard you screaming and I tried to get here as soon as I could," I told her, surveying the compartment for the usual signs of damage/fire/bloodshed. “You’re okay, right?”
At this, there was a thick silence. Dom’s expression contorted from one of suspicion to annoyance, and Fred and Aidan, who hadn’t uttered a word so far, both shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“Well?” I demanded (at this point, I could practically feel Potter rolling his eyes behind me). “What happened?”
Then, finally —
“He bit me.”
I paused for a moment, blinking rapidly as Dom’s words, bitter and wounded, hung in the heavy air.
“I said,” Dom declared icily, swiveling her resentful gaze towards Freddy, who was still lounging, slightly sheepishly, in his seat. “He bit me. As in sunk his teeth into my skin.”
At this, Potter stifled a laugh, which quickly became a hasty cough when Dom shot him one of her famous stink-eyes. Aidan, who looked like he would rather be snogging a cheese grater than be here at this moment, averted his gaze, cheeks blooming pink.
“Um,” I said. “Why?”
Immediately, Freddy leaped to his feet in a frenzied, almost manic motion that had me taking a wary step back. “Aha! Funny you should ask that, Aggy, because has anyone bothered to hear my side of the story yet? Noooo. Of course not! You bite someone and all of a sudden you’re the villain — ”
“Okay, can someone please explain to me why Freddy is biting people?” I cut off, raising my voice slightly.
Aidan, who was still blushing up a storm, suddenly jumped up from his chair as well and dramatically started to shake his fist at the air in typical Shakespearean manner. Oh Merlin, I needed new friends. And siblings.. “It was terrible, Aggy! Terrible! He made me watch... MADE ME WATCH!” In a move that I found to be slightly over-the-top, Aidan collapsed to his knees, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “THE THINGS I’VE SEEN! THE HORRORS I’VE LIVED!”
And with that, my fifteen-year-old brother curled himself into a fetal position and started to whimper. Yes. Whimper.
What is wrong with these people.
I should get a medal for dealing with this insanity every day. “Okay, guys, this isn’t that hard. Just tell me what happened... All I want is a clear, detailed explanation — ”
“It was all Dom’s fault, I was provoked!”
“Provoked? How were you provoked, you bloody moron? You attacked me!”
“What I did was justified!”
“THE GUILT! OH, THE GUILT! I CAN’T LIVE WITH IT ANYMORE! I JUST STOOD BY AND WATCHED! I’M A SHAME TO THE GRYFFINDOR NAME!”
“Aidan, shut up already.”
“Hey, don’t you dare tell him to shut up, Dom!
“I can do whatever I want, I was just mauled!”
“Oh, stop being so dramatic — ”
I turned helplessly to Potter as all of a sudden, our compartment launched into chaos. Fred stormed up to Dom so that they were nose to nose, and both began screaming and gesticulating wildly at each other in a manner that I had seen many times before, at Weasley Family Reunions and whenever the two cousins fought at home over who got rights to the telly remote. Aidan was now plugging his ears and quietly singing to himself as he rocked back and forth, apparently traumatized by the horrific biting incident. And Potter was watching all of this contentedly, having found himself a seat with a close-up view, his legs stretched out and his arms folded behind his head.
“Dramatic? You bloody eejit, I have teeth marks in my arm!”
“Yes, teeth marks of justice!”
“What the fuck are you talking about? You’re paying for my rabies shot!”
“For the last time, I do not have rabies! God, you get bit by a monkey at the zoo one time, and everyone starts assuming you have rabies! Why is that?”
“You sodding prat, it was two times! Don’t you ever learn?”
“Well how was I supposed to know it was vicious! It looked so darn cute!”
“You kept sticking your hands inside the bars and trying to tickle it! Of course it — you know what — THIS CONVERSATION IS TAKING A WEIRD TURN!”
“STOP IT! EVERYONE STOP IT!” My shriek was ear-drum-shattering. I was pretty sure all of the birds in Scotland just took flight from their homes in the treetops, it was that loud.
Immediately, everything jolted to a halt. Dom froze, her hands inches away from Freddy’s neck, fingers already clawed into optimum strangling form. Aidan stopped rocking back and forth, looking like a scared animal in captivity. And Potter finally leaned forwards in his seat, eyebrows raised, watching all of this like it was a particularly amusing telly show.
“Look at yourselves!” I cried, crossing over to where Aidan was cowering. “Look what you’ve done to Aidan! You’ve broken him!”
More whimpering, courtesy of Aidan. There was a sheepish silence as Dom lowered her hands, clearing her throat, and Fred adverted his gaze to fix his collar.
Surveying the compartment to make sure I had everyone's full attention, I took a shaky breath and tried venturing once more into the unfamiliar territory of Common Sense and Reason. “Now, can someone please just explain to me what happened?”
Fred sighed, running an exasperated hand through his hair, his shoulders slumping forwards as he sat down. “Fine. If you really have to know, Aggy, here’s the full exciting story: Dom told Evelyn about my snoring/drooling issue, which was supremely embarrassing — "
“I thought it would be funny!”
“And so — ” Fred interrupted, gaze darkening. “We decided that she would have to pay. No one can just get away with something like that. No one!” Fred’s voice had taken on a scary, almost demonic tone to it. “There would have to be punishment for what she did.”
“So you locked her into a train compartment... And bit her.” I said flatly, gaze flitting between the two crazy Weasleys.
“Eye for an eye. I regret nothing.” Fred shrugged, leaning back in his seat with his arms behind his head.
I stared at my friends, from Fred to Aidan to Dom to Potter, flicking between all their different levels of craziness. I was suddenly not amazed at all. Of course. Of course they would do something like this. I should have expected it.
I felt a sense of resignation well inside me as Dom rubbed her sore arm, muttering nasty words under her breath, and took a seat. Aidan started to uncurl out of his trembling fetal position, and Potter, his desire for some good old soap-opera action obviously fulfilled, leaned back contentedly in his seat. Suddenly, everything was calm again. Just like that. Like nothing had ever happened in the first place.
I looked around myself. With a vague sense of dread, I realized that I would probably have to deal with these people for the rest of my life. Insanity was like a parasite, or a stubborn stray dog — once it found you, there was no getting away.
You were stuck for good.
"I've had my vengeance," Fred announced to nobody in particular. "And am satisfied. The balance of the universe has been restored."
Merlin help us all.
By the time the train pulled into Kings Cross, the insides of my stomach felt as tangled as a kindergartner's shoelaces. I literally felt sick as we slowly rolled into the platform, the blurry faces of all the friends and family members suddenly becoming all too clear.
The Hogwarts Express gave a sharp whistle and we yanked to a stop. Aidan, who had fallen asleep in his little corner, jolted awake with a yelp. Potter cracked his neck in an obnoxiously loud manner as he stood up, earning him a dirty look from me. Slowly, we all got to our feet, shaking ourselves off. In a true example of poetic justice, Fred had fallen asleep on Dom and, much to her dismay, drooled all over her new t-shirt.
You know that feeling when you get on a rollercoaster, and slowly you start ascending the tracks up the biggest drop on the ride? And as the tracks tick-tick-tick underneath you, all you can feel is this creeping sense of dread, this knowledge that something terrible is about to happen?
Yeah, that was kind of how I was feeling right about now.
As everyone filtered out, I stretched upwards, feeling my sweater ride uncomfortably up my back as I reached for my trunk, which was sitting on the top rung of the compartment’s shelf and just out of reach.
I stretched and stretched, even doing a couple hops for good measure, but it was no use. My fingers grazed the worn leather but couldn't find purchase. Sitting up high beyond my grasp, the trunk seemed to be mocking me in my silent agony. Really, this was just perfect. I couldn’t even get a stupid trunk down without making a fool of myself.
I was just starting to think of all the ways in which this situation could be an apt metaphor for my entire life when, all of a sudden, a tan, calloused hand reached up and grabbed the brass handle, yanking my trunk down as easily as though it was full of nothing but air.
And that was when I turned around to see Potter, wordlessly setting my trunk on the ground.
My lips parted. Our eyes met.
Great, and now the feeling of dread in my stomach was starting to mix with a hint of nausea.
Stupid, chivalrous Gryffindor.
I had no idea what to say. This was the first time we had been left alone together since the RoR party, and I didn't know the exact protocol for being around your brother's best friend after you'd snogged him.
So, of course, I decided to diffuse the situation with some awkward humor.
“Oh, my knight in shining armor, thank goodness you were here to save me from that evil trunk! I don’t know what my weak, trembling female arms would have done without you! Swoon! Sigh! Faint!” I slapped a hand to my forehead and, much to Potter's unamusement, stumbled around in a mock imitation of the Damsel in Distress.
Potter tossed me a look over his shoulder as he reached up for his own trunk, and I couldn’t help but let my eyes graze slightly over the tensed muscles of his back. “You know, normal people just say thank you.”
He set his trunk down and straightened himself, staring at me expectantly, eyebrows raised in irritation. I blinked at him, trying to muster the appropriate amount of disgust on my face and act like I hadn’t just been ogling the more... Er, noticeable benefits of his Quidditch career (in my defense, Potter really shouldn’t wear t-shirts — the fabric was, er, far too thin. Really. It was just indecent).
“Whatever.” With that, I grabbed the handle of my trunk and tried to march off, though the effect was slightly ruined by the fact that I had to half-drag my giant, Canada-sized trunk behind me.
He’s just trying to get under your skin, pull you back into another argument. Just ignore him.
Or, you know, not.
“Is this yours by any chance?” On Potters index finger dangled a somewhat embarrassing bra with dancing monkeys on the front. I started, and then looked down to see that my trunk had fallen open and that I had left a marvelous little trail of underwear behind me.
Potter tossed me the bra, one eyebrow cocked, obviously enjoying himself. I barely caught it before frantically stuffing it back in my trunk.
“Sorry, but my Knight in Shining Armor duties don’t include underwear pick-up. You’re on your own, m’Lady.” He gave a sarcastic, flourishing little bow and then grabbed his trunk, ambling out of the compartment and leaving me all alone to pick up my mess.
And they say chivalry is dead.
The first thing I noticed about Ginny Potter was that she raised her eyebrow exactly like Potter did — in a perfect, smooth arch, with so much ease it looked effortless. She was his spitting image, and I found that really disturbing.
The second thing I noticed was that Ginny Potter was friendly. So friendly, it caught me off guard.
“Agatha!” Without any forewarning whatsoever, I found myself enveloped in a very tight, rib-crushing hug. ‘We are so glad to have you with us — you know you’re welcome at our house anytime!”
“Er, thanks,” I mumbled, slightly chagrined, as Mrs. Potter pulled back, her sheet of dark red hair swinging around her slender waist. It did not seem just that someone like her could have red hair and still look like a supermodel, while I, at the best of times, resembled a weasel with skin disease. Unfair.
“And Aidan!” Smile widening, Mrs. Potter reached over and hugged Aidan, who looked all too happy to be pressed up against the woman who Witch Weekly had named Hottest Quidditch Star of 2015.
Potter coughed loudly. Aidan reluctantly stepped back, shooting Potter an apologetic look that obviously meant something along the lines of, ‘Dude, sorry I just totally creeped on your mom.’
Potter retaliated with an admonishing glare that probably said, ‘Dude, it’s alright, just don’t do it again.’
And Aidan: ‘Dude, I won’t. Promise. Dude to dude.’
And that, my friends, is what we call bromance.
“So, is everyone here? Are we good to go?” Mrs. Potter asked, completely oblivious to the invisible conversation going on between her son and my brother. She surveyed the crowd, warm brown eyes narrowed and slightly anxious.
I nodded hastily. We were all standing in the middle of the platform, huddled together against the whirlwind of smiling faces and cheery greetings, and I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.
Potter, who was standing next to me with his arms crossed, nodded curtly. “Yep. We’re all here. Can we go now?”
Mrs. Potter sighed. “Is that really the greeting I get from my long-lost son? I was expecting a few tears of joy at least.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Potter grinned, but already he was letting his mum pull him into a hug, which looked slightly awkward since Potter was so much taller than her. “Alright, enough. There are people watching.” There was a mock-stern tone in his voice, a kind of fond, light teasing that I had never heard before. “I can't be seen with my mum here. You'll ruin my street cred.”
At this, Lily Potter, who was standing next to Ginny and had previously been glancing at her nails in typical bored-teenage-girl fashion, gave a derisive snort. “Street cred? Please. Mum, I don't think I can be around James' delusions any longer. They're making me sad. Can I go say goodbye to my friends one more time real quick?”
Woah, looked like Potter’s snarkiness was hereditary. And he was also somewhat of a Mama’s Boy. And Lily could do that weird eyebrow thing too. God, this was all so strange.
Potter rolled his eyes. “By friends, you mean the twitchy little kid you call your boyfriend, right?”
Lily’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “James! I do not have a boyfriend! And since when have you been so interested in my love life?”
“She definitely has a boyfriend,” Potter muttered in a stage-whisper to Ginny, who allowed an almost imperceptible smirk to flit across her face. “I saw them holding hands the other day. Lils, I hope you’re using protection. You must always remember to practice safe hand-holding — ”
Lily gave him a sharp look, “You better shut up before I tell Mum about all the stuff you do at school. And I’m not just talking about hand-holding.”
At this, I couldn’t help but feel a rash of heat crawl down my neck. This was so weird, listening to the family of the boy who I hated and snogged (last weekend, in fact), throw witty banter around like it was nothing. Not to mention witty banter about his sex life. Not that Potter had a sex life. Well, actually, of course Potter had a sex life. He was Potter. But he didn’t have a sex life with me. We... we had an Occasional Random Snog Life, and that was it.
Mrs. Potter did the eyebrow thing again. Freaky. “James, is there anything I should know about?”
“Yes, mum,” Potter paused for dramatic affect, gravely staring into his mother’s eyes with an expression of utmost seriousness. “I’m pregnant.”
From next to me, Aidan snickered a little.
Oh, dear brother, l bet if you knew what had happened at that costume party a few weeks ago, you would not be laughing as much.
“As long as you name it after me, I’m fine with it.” Ginny’s lips were tugging upwards into a wry smile. “Anyways, we should probably get a move on before everyone else starts leaving and the parking lot becomes too crowded — come on, man slaves.” With that, she gestured to the two carts filled with all our possessions, and immediately, Potter and Aidan started to push them, being their good little Gryffindor selves.
“Oh, before we leave — did you see Albus go off with that friend of his, Scorpius? He's spending Christmas at his place.”
“Yeah, though I don’t know why he hangs out with that Malfoy prat all the time.”
“Did you just call Malfoy a prat? Um, pot and kettle, much?” Lily trilled as we started to make our way towards the barrier.
Hey, I was really starting to like this Lily kid. She seemed like a cool gal.
“Don’t you have some more scandalous hand-holding to do?”
“James, be nice.”
Potter met Ginny’s slightly amused glare with an impish grin before turning back to his sister. Aidan and I trailed behind the trio, entertained by their antics. “You do realize I’m going to have to meet this kid someday, right, Lils?”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“Why not? Are you ashamed of your big brother, Lils? I’m hurt!” With the one arm he wasn’t using to push the cart, Potter pulled his sister into an uncomfortable-looking half-hug, keeping her close as she tried to squirm away.
“Stop it, you buffoon! And the reason you can’t meet him is because he’s completely terrified of you!”
“Why are you acting like that’s bad? That’s a good thing, right Mum?”
Ginny gave a half-laugh, half-scoff. “Leave me out of this.” She paused. “But yes, that’s a good thing. A really, really good thing.”
With that, Ginny glided, impossibly graceful, into the barrier between the Platform and Kings Cross. We quickly followed, not knowing what else to do.
It was so weird to see Potter in this setting, I mused as we followed Mrs. Potter to the parking-lot. To see him acting all carefree and easygoing with his family... Of course, I’d been on the opposite end of his mockery before (loads of times), but I’d never heard him do it in such a warm, teasing manner. It was so easy, the way they tossed insults back and forth, but you could tell there was an underlying sense of affection underneath it all.
We finally reached the Potter’s car, a sleek black sedan, and we piled our luggage into the magically enhanced trunk before slipping inside. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, squashed between Potter and Aidan (earlier, Lily had called shotgun and after much heated bickering in which Ginny had to step in multiple times to referee, Potter had relinquished it to her). I could feel the whole side of Potter’s body, pressing, warm and insistent, against mine. Our knees were grazing. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, though, he just stared out the window, expression unfathomable, as Ginny pulled out of the parking-lot.
The ride was long and uneventful, livened up by Lily's ramblings as she prattled on about her friends, her classes, the Harpies-Canons match tomorrow. She was full of restless energy, bouncing up and down in her seat and fiddling with the radio, occasionally leaning backwards to snip at Potter or ask Aidan and I something. She was completely different from her brother, who, I knew, could pass for a statue at times — unfazed, unruffled, unreadable.
Eventually, we pulled into a pretty, curving street that looked almost muggle-style. I’d heard about the Potter’s house many times from Aidan, but I’d never actually visited. When I finally saw it, though, there was no denying that it was breathtaking. Not small, but not grotesquely big either. It was a Victorian-style house with a white outside and pretty grey shutters. It looked like the kind of house that would have tons of nooks and crannies to hide in, the perfect house for curling up and reading a book while it thunder-stormed outside. You could tell that the lawn in front, although it was now covered in snow, would be perfect for lazy summery nights. And even though I couldn’t see it, I had heard rumors that the house had a Quidditch field and a pool in the back.
“Woah,” I breathed almost inaudibly, taking it all in. Ginny swerved sharply into the driveway (another thing about Ginny Potter: not the world’s best driver) and we jolted to a halt. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the house looming in front of me.
In fact, I was so absorbed in my staring that I almost didn’t notice Potter was looking at me. He was observing me with a careful expression as he gauged my reaction, his own expression closed-off and guarded.
The others unbuckled their seatbelts and slowly got (or in Lily’s case, literally leapt) out of the car. But I was left, frozen, my gaze locked on to Potter’s.
“What do you think?” He said neutrally, and I honestly had no idea what to make of him. His eyes were thoughtful, as if he really wanted to know. Some tendrils of his hair were curling up ever so slightly at the tops of his ears.
“It’s beautiful,” I said finally, truthfully. “You’re lucky.”
Potter stared at me for a second, and then looked away, shaking his head, giving a breathless huff of laughter. “Lucky,” he repeated, almost incredulously, and I had no idea what he was thinking. And then he was getting out of the car and leaving me, once again, alone and confused.
Mr. Potter was away on an Auror-related business trip (darn, guess that signed autograph would have to wait), and Albus was staying at Scorpius’ house, which left the guestroom for me. I didn’t mind this at all, seeing as the guest room was basically the equivalent of a suite at a five-star hotel.
The minute I walked into the room, I went straight for the bed. It was king-sized, with a delicious-looking lavender comforter that squished around me when I belly-flopped on top of it.
“Ugnnnnnnnnh,” I moaned into one of the five goose-feather pillows. “I never want to leave.”
“You’re liking it, I take it?” Aidan trailed in behind me, looking rather amused and considerably better after today’s traumatizing biting incident.
“The soft-as-a-cloud bed? Yes. The fact that I’m living in enemy territory? No.”
Aidan rolled his blue eyes, crossing his arms as he sat down on the edge of the bed. I stopped smothering my face into the marshmallow-like pillow to look up at him in annoyance, though it wasn’t like he was encroaching on my personal space or anything, the bed was so big.
“I don’t get why you insist on making this thing between Potter and you such a big deal.”
And it’s funny, the word ‘thing.’ Because it could encapsulate so many different definitions. A ‘thing’ could be a feud, a rivalry, even a...Well, romantic-natured relationship (as in, we had a 'thing' but then I realized he was a giant effing prat). And really, wasn’t it like Potter and I were all three definitions? Not that our connection was necessarily romantic, but still, there was an undeniable spark between us, something that kept pushing us together again and again.
“I’m not making it a big deal,” I sighed, speaking slowly for clarification. “That’s just how it is. He hates me, I hate him, the sun shines, dogs bark, etcetera etcetera.”
Just before Aidan could open his mouth to utter a surely witty reply, we were interrupted by a shout so loud it couldn’t possibly come from such a small lady like Ginny Potter.
“AIDAN! AGATHA! TIME FOR DINNER!”
I raised my head, heaving a giant sigh, and looked at Aidan. He glanced at me. We seemed to share some kind of twin telepathy for a moment, where we both acknowledged how much we didn’t want to go to dinner, and how much we’d rather just stay here, together, quiet, peaceful.
But then, like all things, it was ruined. “We should probably go, you know,” Aidan mumbled. “Mrs. Potter isn’t the most patient of people.”
“But I’m so comfy,” I whimpered.
He shrugged, jumping to his feet and stretching. “I’ll meet you downstairs in a few then.”
“Alright,” I mumbled.
After Aidan left, I just stayed like that, lying on the Heavenly Bed of Comfiness. I don’t know how long I stayed there, just reveling in the cushy softness of it all, but it was probably a while. Eventually, I figured that I better do the polite thing and go downstairs (plus, the smells coming from the kitchen were tantalizing, and hunger was starting to win out in my life's eternal struggle of Need for Sleep vs. Need for Food), so I heaved myself out of the bed and staggered into the hallway.
The house was huge, but still maintained a sense of coziness, what with all the family pictures on the walls and the cool, cushy cream carpet underneath my feet. I shuffled my way to the giant, mahogany staircase, but stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed something.
A closed door.
Which, in a house like this, could only mean one thing:
I had seen him go into it when we settled in. I hadn’t gotten a good peak inside, seeing as the door had remained firmly shut for the past hour... But maybe now that he was downstairs and I was here, alone, curious...
I cracked open the door.
I opened it a little wider.
Silence. The deafening kind.
Slowly, I took one step in. And then another. Nothing happened, nobody stopped me, Potter didn’t pop out from behind the door and scream ‘AHA, I CAUGHT YOU!”
No. Just silence.
Finally, I threw the door open all the way and stepped inside, flicking on the light-switch so that everything was suddenly illuminated.
And I stopped.
The first thing I saw was red and gold. A lot of it.
There were three deep crimson walls, and then one gold one. The bed was huge, like mine, but bare, with a simple black comforter. In fact, the whole room was bare. There was a wardrobe in the corner, a desk on the opposite side and a Gryffindor flag stuck to the wall, but that was it. Otherwise, it might as well have been empty. It looked like one of those rooms from furniture catalogs, where everything's too neat and freakishly organized to be real.
I knew it was wrong, barging into Potter’s privacy like this, but I couldn’t help myself. Potter was just so closed off, so secretive, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying to find out something more about him. Not that I would be able to find anything, judging by the looks of the room. This place was so boring, Professor Binns would be proud. Plus, Potter wasn’t exactly the type to have A Sooper Secret Diary that he’d just leave lying around.
I walked over to the wardrobe, curiously dragging a finger across the edge of it and half-expecting to come up with dust. But no, it was clean as ever. There was a small clutter of items—a mini broom model that was charmed to whizz around in circles, which I remembered Dom had given to him for his birthday last year, plus a couple untouched-looking textbooks, a stack of worn Hemmingways and Capotes... And then a picture.
I picked it up. It was, surprisingly enough, of the five of us. I didn’t know what I had expected—my face to be cut out, or a black X scribbled over it—but it wasn’t what I got. I was included in that photo just like everyone else—the five of us laughing and smiling, standing right in front of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Aidan was smearing some of his ice cream cone on Dom’s nose, who was giggling with her arms slung around Potter and me. Fred was standing to the side, giving me bunny ears (so mature) and grinning like a moron. It was just like any other photo of a group of teenaged kids. If a stranger looked at it, they could never have guessed, in a million years, the history between me and Potter that trembled underneath the surface.
I was just about to set the picture down and leave when, all of a sudden, I noticed something. A small flash of light, glinting off a reflective surface. For some reason, my heartbeat quickened. Upon further inspection, I found out that the mysterious object was another picture, hidden behind the first one. I set down the picture of us and picked it up.
It was a lot smaller and, strangely enough, a muggle photo, judging by the fact that its occupants didn’t move. A simple, silver frame, and in the picture, the most beautiful couple I’d ever seen. Potter and...a blonde girl. She was gorgeous in the girl-next-door type of way, so wholesome and pretty and blond, it made me feel like a cow just looking at her. The thing about her beauty was that she wasn’t perfect—she obviously didn’t cake on makeup or do anything fancy to her hair. There was a slight gap in between her front two teeth. But it was the imperfections that made her so heart-wrenchingly, unfairly beautiful.
In the picture, Potter was kissing her cheek. Mystery-girl had her eyes squeezed tight, her mouth dropped open in a giant smile. Potter himself looked the happiest I’d ever seen him, the corners of his eyes scrunched slightly in laughter, his arm wrapped around this girl’s waist.
It took me a minute to realize that my hands were shaking—the photo in my hands was trembling so hard, I was surprised I hadn’t dropped it already. There was a loud noise thumping in my ears—oh wait, that was my heart beat—and my stomach felt like something had clawed out everything until I was nothing but an empty, hollowed pit.
I couldn’t believe Potter had a girlfriend. Or, more importantly, Potter had a girlfriend and still snogged me. Twice. I mean, I knew I called him a prat a lot, but I never would have thought that he’d stoop as low as cheating on someone. With me.
I felt sick. Used. Trampled on.
People say Slytherins don’t have moral codes. If that’s true, then why do I feel like I’m about to throw up right now?
Oh god, I was the other woman. And Potter's girlfriend — she was blond. Blond. Blond! How could I ever compete with that?
Not that I wanted to. Compete with that, I mean. What was I even talking about?
There was too much whirling through my brain, I couldn’t make sense of it. The nausea coursing through my veins, clawing at the inside of my throat, was slowly turning to anger. How could he do this to that girl? To me?
But of course, I should have expected it. I was the snog that Potter kept in his back pocket whenever he wanted it, while he had the real girlfriend back home. I was just... a slut, basically. A slut.
Oh god. I was about to throw up.
I whipped around, the frame in my hand falling to the ground as a startled squeak slipped out of my lips. What I saw was enough to make my heart stop completely.
Potter was standing in the hallway, one of his hands clenched around the door-frame, hazel eyes furious and cold, like chips of amber ice. He looked so angry—and for the first time in weeks, I saw emotion breaking through his usual placid apathy. Fear began to squirm inside my stomach, and it was suddenly very hard to remember how to breathe.
I wanted to hurl accusations at him, to hurl fists at him, to unleash my fury and let him have it. But I couldn’t. As I stared into Potter’s stony face, unable to tear my gaze away, all I could muster was a stuttering, “I s-swear I c-can explain.”
“Well then, explain.” Potter folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the doorframe. And I flitted my gaze, from him to the picture on the floor back to him, cheeks flaming red, no doubt in my mind that I was done for.
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