Chapter 16 : Secret Agents
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The library is cold and silent, taking on the night as a grim old friend. I slide by shelf after shelf, searching for the grey eyes and blond hair I’m sure will shine bright in the darkness. The library is incredibly creepy late at night, and I’m starting to wonder if Rose is really worth it. I have a very irrational fear of books. Particularly dark, dusty ones that I just know are watching me.
Merlin, why would Al choose this place for us to meet?
I eye the shelves carefully as I pass by them, muttering warnings under my breath.
God, books are creepy.
I enter the back corner of the library and finally see his pale eyes glowing in the darkness. I’m sure he can see me, even though I am dark haired and dark eyed. He always strikes me as the sensory type.
We are both watching each other, but neither of us says a word. I decide to lean to against a bookshelf, considering what I’m about to say to him, when I miscalculate the distance of the shelf and do a sort of blundering tumble through the air. It’s quite awkward if I’m being honest. But I seriously dare him to point that out.
I cough and lean against the book shelf like nothing happened, and then check an invisible watch. I’m actually quite learned in the art of playing it cool.
He’s staring at me with that same, aggravatingly bored expression. Hardly even amused at my almighty tumble. For some reason, this irks me. Maybe I kind of like when they laugh, because I get to rage at them. I don’t even know who they are, actually. And here I go again, forgetting where I even am.
There’s a soft drumming of fingers.
Finally, I look up. Plan or no plan for tonight, there are some unresolved things I’ve got to deal with first. “Wanna tell me why you never bothered to stop O’Malley?” I cross my arms and glare at him. A meaner glare than usual. One that I’ve been working on.
He sits at a small rounded desk, his recently ignited wand propped up against a stack of books. After a while he says in his same, bored tone, “He wasn’t really interested in what I had to say.”
Anger boils up inside me. “You promised me you —”
“I hear you’re dating that weedy Potter boy,” he says abruptly, a sharp edge to his voice. There is a certain note of suggestiveness that I just barely catch.
“So what if I am?” I retort. There’s something about the way he’s looking at me, something that sends a tremble up my spine. Like he’s a starving a lion, and I’m some rotten meat he’s tried to eat. Some rotten meat that wasted his time. “You said you would help,” I add, trying to make myself clear. I’m not afraid of him. I’m not.
He observes me before saying, “When you kissed me—”
“You mean when you kissed me?” I correct vehemently.
There’s an angry glint in his eye, but he continues, “Well, I sort of thought that you liked me.”
“Oi!” I say, angered. “I told you I was taken!”
Five years. Five years I’ve been at Hogwarts without a date. Now in less than one I’ve suddenly got a raging love life? I demand a refund.
“I thought you were just surprised,” he snaps, raising his voice for the first time since I’ve met him. “I was going to come talk to you the next day — to ask you to Hogsmeade — when I found you and Potter snogging by the Greenhouses. Funny how I thought I’d found a girl who actually got me — who wasn’t some snobby nice girl from London. You’re just a bint like the rest of them.”
This hits me hard, and it infuriates me. “Oi, Sterling,” I hiss, “let me make a few things clear, eh? I never returned nor asked for you to lay one on me, got it? I told you I was seeing someone, too, so don’t sit there and accuse me of being insensitive. As far as I’m concerned, you gave me your word that you would help stop Riley O’Malley hurting my friend, and apparently your word is nothing.” I turn to leave, but before I get very far, I whip around. “It’s tonight, by the way,” I snap. “And without you, there’s not a bloody thing I can do for her. She’s as good as brainwashed.”
This was a mistake. Now I’ll just have to go fight Al to let me come, and if he caves, help him curse Riley through the wall and try and beg Rose to understand that he is a horrible, horrible, git. And clearly, none of this is going to end well.
I begin to blindly stumble back towards the exit (forgetting altogether the spell for making light. Yes, I really am that bad at paying attention.) when I hear a series of footsteps coming up from behind, and Sterling grabs my forearm.
“All right, Fifth Year” — he sighs — “what do I have to do?”
I turn around, my arms folded. “You’re sure? I’m not enlisting the help of a berk, so you better be sure.”
He chuckles. “I’m positive. I gave you my word. You were right.”
I muster a small smile, embracing the fact that I do, after all, have a small soft spot for mean people. I take his wand in my hand, rolling it around a bit. “I take it you know the sister spells for recording voices?” I ask.
“Referre Sonos and Repetere?” he replies with ease.
“Er — yes, I think those are the ones,” I say. I actually have no earthly idea if those are the right spells, but he’s a seventh year, so I just go with it. “Anyway, you gotta record what he says” — he seems uncomfortable — “and — oi — you said you were sure!”
“I’m sure, I’m sure!”
I eye him carefully. Boy, I will really enjoy pumbling him to a pulp if he screws me over— Laney, that really isn’t ladylike! a voice in my head reminds me. Right. Must keep the crazy to a minimum these days.
Shaking my head clear, I continue, “Well, he’s a prat. So he’s bound to be down in your common room right now bragging that he’ll be winning his stupid bet tonight. It shouldn’t be hard to catch what he says. All you have to do is transfer it over to Albus’s wand after you get it. He’ll wait for you in the courtyard at ten-thirty. That way you won’t even have to be seen by him. He’ll never know.”
“All right,” he says, nodding. “And when are you going to show her?”
“He’s supposed to meet her there at eleven, and if I know Rose, she’ll be there at least fifteen minutes early. We’ll make her hear us out, show her the recording, and when Riley shows up — wham — Rose’ll confront him, and he’ll admit it. Then they’ll finally be over and Rose won’t be mad at us.”
“So why not just tell her beforehand?” he asks.
I shake my head. “No, no. Rose needs confrontation. It’s key, trust me.”
He nods. “I’ll meet your friend at ten-thirty with the recording. I won’t let you down.”
“Thanks, Sterling,” I reply, managing a small smile.
“No problem,” he says. “And listen, I’m sorry for what I said before. I don’t think you’re snobby or anything — you love Potter, I get it.”
I nod. “I do.”
“So you love him?” he queries.
I stop, confused. “I — wait — uh,” I sputter, going red. Damn him!
When we exit the library, Albus is sitting against the stone wall outside the doorway, his wand out, head lulling. I crouch down next to him and whisper, “Al?” When I touch his hand he jumps, and I fall backwards in surprise. “Sorry! Sorry!” I say, getting up.
“Laney,” he breathes, looking relieved. “No, sorry, it was me. I think I fell asleep.” He gives his head a small shake and looks around. When he notices Sterling, his eyebrows lift so as to ask, Did it go well?
I give a small, unnoticeable nod. He looks relieved, yet slightly crestfallen all at once. I know he was hoping that it wouldn’t go well so as to not have me involved with someone like Riley O’Malley, though he would never say this aloud.
And even though I know Al would understand, I decide not to tell him about Sterling’s misconception with me, or even that we kissed all those months ago. Somehow, I feel like it’s one small favour I can do for Sterling Jones.
After we’ve parted ways with Sterling, I head back up to my dormitory and essentially just lay flat on my face for the next hour. I’m nervous: I’m really, really nervous. Or maybe it’s anxious. I actually can’t really place the feeling at all. All I know is that for the next thirty minutes until Al returns with a wand full of confession, I want to lay here with my face in this pillow. And maybe die.
I’ve no idea where Rose has gone off to, which may be part of the reason for my foul mood. I’m suddenly worried that the time has changed or that she’s run off and been eaten by the giant squid. So many things can go wrong tonight, and everyone knows how well I deal with stress.
“I’m sorry, but I have got to ask,” comes a sharp voice. Ivy, of course. I remain face down and try and tune her out. She seems displeased at my lack of interest in her interest. Oops. “What the hell is going on? The Weasley girl has been positively woebegone for weeks and dating that seventh year boy who quite obviously is only using her for something. And now you’re suffocating into a pillow.”
“Ungggmuhhherrrmuhh,” I reply into my pillow. I guess speaking face-down isn’t as easy as one would think, though it’s probably a good thing it only came out as a moan. It wasn’t my friendliest response, per se.
“I’m sorry,” she says through her teeth, “I don’t speak troll.”
I lift my face ever so slightly and retort, “I don’t speak bitch.”
“Go to hell!” she shrieks.
“I’ll save you a seat!” I yell back at her.
After a long stretch of silence she spits, “I don’t understand why you have to be so mean all the time! I was actually attempting a conver—”
This sets me off. “Me? Mean? Really? I never knew!” I sit up in my bed and jam my feet into shoes as I speak. “Honestly Ivy, do I even need to relay that number of times you’ve intentionally screwed me about or the fascinating array of insults you throw at me on a daily basis? In front of Albus, nonetheless?” As I turn tempestuously, I see her face paling and her lip quivering. “I really don’t get you, you know? Ever since the day I met you you’ve hated me. And believe me, I hated you, too. You tried to ruin my friendships and pry away Albus. You repeatedly humiliated me and probably are plotting to kill me. How can you not expect people to hate you when you act like this? I may be mean, but I never cross the lines that you do.”
“It’s Daniel!” she finally barks. “You’re so awful to him, you are! He fancies you so much, and you are so horrible to him, straight from the start! He’s not supposed to like you! You aren’t good for him! And it’s my job to protect him!” She yanks her hangings closed.
Well, that was a success.
I throw on my robes and disappear from the dormitory. Maybe I overreacted. Maybe I didn’t. Honestly, I don’t really care anymore.
Once in the common room, I flop down on the sofa and try not to see Chaz and Blaine Donahue snogging on the window seat. I want to take every single couple at Hogwarts and just, I dunno, kick their shins a bit. Maybe even Al and me, too. Hogwarts was solace before my fifth year — I had Dara by my side. I was the one who sat back in my hub of delicious foods and comfortable robes and average grades that sniggled at Dara’s boy troubles. We played tricks on first years and spent our nights gossiping on the Astronomy Tower. Well, Dara gossiped. I just threw in my shiny insult from time to time.
But if I could, I think I’d want it all back. I didn’t have the school’s unforgiving eyes on me, like I was a piece of meat for them to judge. I didn’t have firewhiskey or boys that fancied me or terrible marks. Before, people didn’t like me because I was callous and bitter. And I was fine with that because it was me. Now they are scathing and resentful, angry that someone like me, selfish and antagonistic, could be anything above bottom-of-the-food-chain riffraff. But then there’s Albus. Albus.
My head hurts.
“Hey Becks,” says Fred, sitting down next to me.
“Hey Fred,” I reply, pulling my knees to my chest. “How’s it—”
“Valentin and Daniel broke up,” he says, cutting me off.
“I — oh,” I respond, a little taken aback. “That’s too bad,” I say. And then, “Actually, blimey, that’s right peachy. I was so sick of them.” I laugh.
“How did that happen, anyway?” I query, curious. Dara’s surely off sulking somewhere. I should probably go find her and comfort her, but … meh.
“Apparently she dumped him,” he says, shrugging. “He didn’t say why.”
Phew. At least she isn’t the victim in the break up. That makes my job a bit easier. “So you must be pretty happy?” I ask.
“Why would I be happy?” he retorts, a sharp edge to his voice. “What are you implying?”
“I — nothing,” I recover, blushing. “Just — you must, uh...”
“I’m going to sleep,” he cuts across, then he rises and disappears up the boys’ stairs.
“Oookay,” I say to myself. That’s new. Since when does Fred Weasley snap at me? I clench my teeth. I shall have to talk to him about this. And smack him with a wet fish.
An hour passes. Maybe two. I stare at the raging fireplace, my eyes burning. Thirty minutes later, I do a few laps around the common room, because my leg’s fallen asleep. I imagine I how I must look, walloping around the room like a debilitated troll. Forty-five minutes. I’m making bubbles float out of my wand, but they are the colour of spinach. God knows why. Another hour goes by, I’m doing crunches. I do two. I’m winded by three.
Eventually it’s ten-forty-five and I am the only one left in the common room, watching a spider crawl back and forth across the back of the portrait hole, about ready to lose my bloody mind.
It swings open just before I’m about to take a spork to my eyes.
“Laney!” His bright eyes pop a bit in surprise. I assume my position on the ground may be a bit jarring if one isn’t expecting it. I decide to stand up, relieved that Al has returned.
“You’re back,” I relay, dusting a few crumbs off of my robes. I had divulged in a snack of pumpkin pasties at some point during my mental breakdown.
He grins a sheepish sort of thing, holding up his wand. “I got the it.”
“Brilliant.” I beam at him.
Returning the smile he says, “You’ve got really wild hair this year, you know that?” And pointing to his own, “We kind of match now.” He laughs at his observation.
“Oh, how clever you are,” I retort, glaring daggers. “It’s clean. I just can’t bloody control which way it wants to go each day.”
Al chuckles. “All right, you ready?” he asks.
I swallow. Please, please let this go well. “To expose Ri-slime to Rose?” I query weakly.
“You can still back down, you know. I can do this alone.” He shrugs.
I look sharply at him. “Let’s go.”
I can’t seem to go four feet without getting overly excited and knocking over a suit of armour or a glass artefact. I can't help it, I feel like a secret agent.
“Laney!” Albus grabs my fingers and yanks me backward, just before I’ve tumbled over and made even more noise, as I had done for the past three consecutive falls.
“It’s wasn’t me! I swear!” I squeak instinctively.
“You’ve just got to be light on your feet,” he whispers, a slight twinge of annoyance etched into his ever-patient tone.
This irritates me deeply. Where Albus is so intelligent that when someone doesn’t understand him he gets frustrated, I’m slow and get confused easily, and become aggravated when people expect me to just know everything. I glare at him and cross my arms. “Well I’m so sorry everyone is not as agile and witty as you!”
He doesn’t even attempt to mask his laughter, or even to maintain a straight face. “It has nothing to do with intelligence,” he says, chuckling.
This roils me up a bit. “Think I’m funny, do you?”
“Come on, Laney,” he whispers, another soft laugh escaping.
My face contorts. “I’ll have you know that I don’t have to stand for any of this!” I hiss, whipping around. I storm down the corridor like an enraged bull.
He comes trotting after me whispering, “Laney, stop, I didn’t mean it like that!”
I try to stick my nose in the air to show that I’m not interested in his weak apologies, when in doing so I lose attention in where I’m going and step right into the the disappearing step on a staircase. A sort of gargled shriek escapes my throat
Albus has his arms around me faster than I can tell what’s happened, pulling me from the trick step.
“Not bleedin’ likely!” I squawk, pink in the face, struggling to pull myself out of the step and swatting off Albus’s help.
He just continues pulling me and says nothing, pale in the face. When I’m finally free from the step he’s still got his hands around my forearms, tightly gripping the sleeves.
We sit there for a moment very quietly. “Al?” I whisper, giving my hands a slight shake to show that he’s still hanging off of me.
He let’s go slowly, still looking pale. “Are you angry with me?”
“No,” I reply softly, staring down at my shoes.
He sighs, maybe kind of relieved, and stares around in the darkness. “Ever since I was nine, when I really noticed girls, and how they all swooned over James—”
“They swoon over you too, Al,” I correct. “You’re just more reserved than James. I find you infinitely more attractive, though.”
He shakes his head, a small smile forming. “All I mean is, you’re the girl I was looking for and I just didn’t know it. Not until I saw you that day on the train did I realize.”
Embarrassed, I fiddle with my clasp.
“And look, I know you’re not ready with the whole love thing” — I cringe — “and that’s okay. I guess I’m just trying to say that, even if you don’t, that’s how I feel. I don’t think that can change.”
Whatever prompts me to kiss him then — maybe to distract him from having to say those words back, or maybe because in all honesty, I do love Al — but whatever the reason, I do. And we snog right there on the staircase, right there with my charm bracelet on my wrist, and with my ankle throbbing from the trick step. Our lips move together, tea and honey, desire and confusion filling the space between us.
“I can’t stay mad at you.” I laugh and rise, dragging him with me. When I glance at my watch, I gasp. “We’ve got to go! It’s almost eleven o’clock!”
Al and I take off up the staircase and to the seventh floor corridor, my ankle pitching a fit. When we come screeching to a halt outside the wall, Albus sprints back and forth three times until a door blooms from the stone.
I gape at him in confusion. How did he even know what type of room they’d be in?
He shrugs and says, “Sterling told me.”
Bloody Sterling Jones.
“So — erm — what d’ya reckon is the best way to go about this?” Al asks me, his hand resting gently on the door.
I shove him along. “We haven’t got much time!” I reply nervously. “Just get in there!”
Albus and I whip our heads around and shriek, “Carter!”
“Bloody hell,” Albus says, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m here to save Rose!” Carter says indignantly.
Our jaws drop.
“Listen,” Carter says hurriedly, “She’s in the Room and—”
“We know!” Al replies, shocked. “That’s why we are here! But more importantly, how did you know?”
“I followed her this morning because I saw how unhappy she looked — that’s when I heard what that Riley bloke wants to do. So I talked to a Hufflepuff friend who confirmed it was a bet. I didn’t know what to do besides tell her — but I’ve been looking for her all day. I finally came here and we gotta save her mate!”
I grab Carter’s wrist and shove Al into the door. “Let’s go!” I hiss. “We haven’t any more time to doddle!”
Al gives me one, hastened look, and enters the room.
As I hobble (as quietly as I can manage, mind you) along behind him, I have to physically stop myself from falling back onto Carter in fright. It’s pitch black. The kind of black that sucks you in like a vortex, stealing away your breath. With a flick of his wand Albus has the room lit dimly, and we can just see the massively bushy head of red hair flip upward in surprise to reveal a quaking, pale Rose Weasley.
She opens her mouth as if to call out in shock, but cannot seem to make the words.
Albus rushes over to her, saying, “Rose, Rose, we know about tonight, we know what Riley’s plan is—”
She looks mortified. Her eyes flying from me to Albus to Carter. I hop over next to her and grab her hand, gently pulling, and Carter is in hot fleet behind me. “I w-wasn’t going to do it,” she whimpers. And then, “But, h-how did you know?”
Albus hugs her saying, “Listen, Rose — Rose we have to tell you something.”
She looks nervous. “W-what?”
“Riley — he isn’t who you think he is, he’s a bad guy, very bad.”
She looks scared but indignant. “No, he cares about me! I just should have been upfront with him—”
Albus swings his wand whispering “Repetere!” and out floods the voices of Riley and his dorm mates, admitting everything. Boasting that tonight he would win the bet and then dump her. It is worse, so much worse, than I had ever imagined. I watch Rose as her already pale face becomes nearly translucent.
Suddenly, she pulls her wand threw the air saying “Siliencio!” and the room falls still.
There is fire in her eyes when she jumps to her feet. “How long did you know!”
Albus, Carter, and I fall backwards in shock. “I—”
“HOW LONG?” she roars. I nearly go deaf.
The pain from my ankle is worsening and the sound of her ferocity brings me to dry heave.
Carter says, “Rose, we have to leave—”
She shoves Carter away and dives at Albus. “How could you do this to me? HOW COULD YOU NOT TELL ME! HOW COULD YOU LET ME BE WITH HIM!” she shouts and I swear dust is falling from the shaking ceiling at her voice.
“Calm down Rose!” Albus barks at her, holding her arms down. I am afraid she might throttle him.
“I ought to curse you Albus Potter!” She claws at his face, ripping his glasses off and throwing them so violently at the ground that they shatter.
Panic has really taken Albus now, and he is stumbling blindly around.
Rose, not knowing that my ankle is badly hurt, wraps a fist around the front of my robes and yanks me into a standing position. I shriek in pain, sweat breaking across my forehead and tears welling in my eyes.
“You were supposed to be my friend!” she yells at me. “All of you—”
A sharp rattling of the doorknob causes Rose to nearly jump out of her skin. Her facial expression has gone from ravenous to terrified in a moment’s notice. She lets go of me and I stumble into a table, dry heaving again.
Albus has finally found his glasses and put them on, but they are cracked and hardly do him any good. “Are you mad!” he calls in the general direction of Rose. “Laney! Laney, are you hurt?”
Rose covers her mouth in horror.
“F-fine!” I manage.
“What have I done,” she whispers to herself. At the next rattle of the doorknob, she jumps.
“It’s Riley,” she cries, “Hide! Get out! GO!”
She begins to shove at us at random. I just stumble into the table again before I’m sick.
Albus is calling my name, but it’s too late.
“What the hell is going on here?”
Riley is standing in the doorway in all his glory, looking like he could wrestle a tiger. His eyes are flashing red and he glares at Rose, who shrinks at his attention.
“It was a bet,” she squeaks, meekly. “All of it.”
His eyes dart to Al, Carter, me, and back. “They told you that?”
“THEY TOLD YOU, THEN?”
“Get him, Carter! Rose, Laney, run!” Albus cries out, but it’s no use. He’s facing the back of the room.
As soon as Riley has his wand trained on Rose, her eyes bugging, Carter darts in front of her and takes the first hit of purple light. He writhes on the ground, twitching.
A single, strangled cry escapes Al’s throat before his robes have gone up in flames. I scream. Rose screams. Tears are running down her face as she throws herself at Albus calling “Aguamenti! Aguamenti!” and as she shoots counter-curses at Carter, who inconsolable.
And then Riley’s eyes are meeting mine, and he’s mouthing something, and I’m gasping, blue light circling me and covering me and taking my breath away.
I thought pain was the time I got bludgeoned in the head as a third year, or when I was seven and thought I had just produced magic for the first time when I stuck my finger in the outlet and got a nice shock. Or maybe even the time Netta’s granddaughter shoved me out of a tree and I broke my arse in four places.
But never in my life had I experienced pain like this.
I might as well be jammed in a Laney-shaped dent in the wall or flying through outer-space for all
I know. I could be writhing on the ground or in bits all over the place. Though none of it would really matter to me, because the pain is so horrendous, so blinding, coursing through my body in dreadful surges again and again, never stopping, that I’d rather be dead if it meant the suffering would end.
I don’t really know if I’m alive. There’s a ringing in my ears and something heavy on my chest; not to mention the endless pain that seems to flow with my blood.
I seem to be falling and then floating, strange hands on my face and back, too many hands. The flesh is cool and unsettling. I can’t see straight. Can’t think straight.
Eventually my subconscious is still, and everything goes black.
Author's Note: Major cliff hanger...
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