Chapter 30 : Wrecked
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My best friend shook out her mane of strawberry blonde hair and moved gracefully into Downward Dog, oblivious to the nasty looks that several of her fellow yogis were shooting her. Apparently, armpit fetishes were not appropriate talk for a yoga class. In fact any talking at all — according to our all-wise-and-flexible instructor, Dragonfly — disrupted zen.
Whatever she meant by that. Despite Dragonfly’s proclamations that we were in a “haven” of “peaceful, burbling zen,” I still could not for the life of me figure out what zen was, exactly. The sound of sweaty feet squeaking against lyrca yoga mats? The overwhelming BO of the guy next to me (who, joy of joys, had decided to go commando today)? It was a mystery.
Since the past couple years, when we wizards began to take a hard look at ourselves and realize that our writing tool of choice was a feather, we had become a lot more eager to modernize. Hence the yoga — just another muggle trend that our lot had adopted for our own enjoyment. As it turned out, wizardring yoga was just like the normal version, except with the occasional magic-ified modification. At Dragonfly's studio, for example, tiny lotus flowers were charmed to float around the room and puff out clouds of sparkling incense. Our yoga mats would, in peaceful random intervals, float us off the ground Aladdin-style. Dragonfly — a woman with dreadlocks who smelled like she'd never been taught the concept of a shower — prowled between our rows, her wand tucked behind her ears and silver toe rings glinting on her bare feet.
I wasn't a big fan of yoga, muggle or otherwise, but at least Dom seemed to be having fun. Over the course of the three days we'd spent apart, Dom had apparently "found herself" and become a reborn-again yogi. This meant she was constantly doing unhelpful deep-breathing exercises in between rants, drinking gross smoothies with names like ‘Tofu Serenity’ and ‘Wheatgrass Delight,’ and often insisting that we open up our "chakras" — something neither she nor I knew anything about. In short, she was the same crazy model of Dom as before — but this time in Lycra Edition!
I, on the other hand, was not very fond of being forced to transform into a human pretzel for an hour and a half, so most of the class I spent half-arseing all of Dragonfly’s instructions and observing the other students on the path towards Enlightenment/fitter bums. It was amusing and scary all at once, seeing as a) everyone here was a crazy person and b) due to Dom’s incessant chatter, we had been marred as the unpopular kids in the class, doomed to forever live in yogi exile. Fun.
“Namaste,” I flashed a pained smile at a spandex-clad, middle-aged woman nearby, who seemed to have taken particular offense to us existing so close to her, before turning back to my best friend. Or, rather, my best friend’s pelvis, since Dom seemed to be practicing a particularly...er, deep lunge at the moment.
“Um,” I said, momentarily losing track of thought as Dom started swiveling in a way that practically came with a complementary stripper pole. I shook my head. “Dom. You really need to stop going out with those guys your mum sets you up with. They’re creepy.”
“You’re telling me,” she sighed. “This one had a man-purse. I mean, the armpit thing is forgiveable, maybe even understandable. But a man-purse? That’s crossing the line.”
I snorted, though this was quickly replaced by a wince of pain as I bent into Downward Dog and my calf muscles screamed in protest. This, to me, was starting to feel a lot less like a Sun Salutation and more like a cruel joke being played on my pain threshold.
“Well, you never know,” I mused to my feet as, from the front of the room, Dragonfly instructed for us to go into Tree Pose. Sighing, we obeyed — with more deep breathing from Dom and pained grunting from me. “Maybe the man-purse gives him a sense of... er, personal style.”
“And a place to store his tampons, I suppose. God. Only my mum would be able to find the one guy on this planet who accessorizes better than I do.”
“Why do you go on these blind dates anyways? They all turn out into disasters. Next time your mum asks, tell her to bugger off,” I advised sagely.
“There’s literally nothing I can do,” Dom inhaled sharply through her nose and closed her eyes, as if she were surrendering to the injustice of it all. “Fleurzilla has gone absolutely batshit. Ever since Vic and Teddy started planning their wedding, it’s been her personal life mission to shack me up with someone so both her daughters can get married.”
I grimaced. Having a walking bundle of neuroses for a mother myself, I could fully sympathize with Dom’s situation. Though it was a little hard while hopping on one leg and trying not to face-plant to the ground. “Why don’t you — oh bollocks —" I wobbled around frantically, trying to find my balance, but it was no use. I was starting to fall. This tree was going down. "I can’t — shit — AUGHHHH! TIMBER!”
Not even bothering to open her eyes, Dom caught and righted me immediately.
Best friend telepathy — it's better than you.
"Whatever, I'm over it now." Dom sighed dramatically, continuing into Warrior Pose as if nothing had happened. “Though you know what she said to me at the bridesmaid fitting the other?” Dom immediately snapped into a French accent that was brutally exaggerated but, in all honesty, pretty funny. “‘One day, Domeeneeq, you will find a man like Teddy — just with lower standards.” She paused, reverting back to her normal tone. “Bitch.”
I snorted. Puh-lease. Dom was gorgeous. Her tumbles of wild hair and sultry, I’m-the-girl-your-mother-warned-you-about eyes had boys seeing floating hearts and tweety birds whenever she breezed by. She had nothing to worry about in the boy department.
I, on the other hand, could not say the same. The first boy I genuinely liked had been Ryan Fisher, and he and I turned out to have a little too much in common, if you know what I mean — as in, we both probably had the same shirtless poster of Oliver Wood hanging in our bedrooms. So naturally, of course, I'd responded to this rejection maturely and intelligently and decided to pounce on my brother’s best friend, who was also my arch nemesis. Because that made perfect sense.
Not to mention said arch nemesis had an ex-girlfriend — a tall, blond and gorgeous ex-girlfriend — who he most likely still had feelings for but refused to talk about. Not that he was obligated to talk about it with me — I was just the girl he snogged in random broom cupboards/children’s arcades. He didn’t even like me. In fact, I irritated him on a daily basis so much that last night, he had told me (and this was a direct quote), “Whenever you open your mouth, Bennett, it makes me want to claw my own face off.”
Adding the fact that our snogs often involved alcohol and some pretty poor decision-making and, well, it wasn’t looking good.
If I was an open book, then Potter was a tightly sealed diary stashed somewhere in the cobwebby bookshelves of the Hogwarts Restricted Section. I could never tell what he was thinking. I mean, it was obvious we hated each other — that much would never change. But why the snogging? Was he — god forbid — attracted to me? Just bored? Or was it all some elaborate diabolical plan to screw with my head?
The situation in general was very far from romantic. Even the mere thought of Potter and I — together — was laughable.
Dom must have noticed all my heavy sighing and visible frustration, because she turned to me with a knowing grimace. “Enough about me," she said. "How’s the Brady Bunch Life with the Potters?”
I flexed my arm muscles, feeling them tremble under the strain of the pose. Exercising sucked. “Well, most of the time I just sit around contemplating the pros and cons of homicide. Now and then arson pops into the mix.”
“Having fun, I take it?”
“I’d rather be making out with a dementor.”
“Just a dementor? Nobody else?” I did not like Dom’s sly smile at this, or the stupid, sleazy eyebrow she was quirking at me.
I blushed. “Nobody else.”
“Oh.” Dom was still smiling. “That’s good, then. Because I know plenty of great spots for not making out with people — ”
“Dom — ”
“Like the Astronomy Tower.”
“Or a broom cupboard.”
“Shut up now.”
“Or a kiddy arcade — ” At this, Dom bursted into silvery peals of laughter. I restrained myself from pushing her onto her mat and showing her Torture Victim Pose.
“Whatever,” I shrugged in a feeble attempt at nonchalance. “It’s not like it’s a big deal or anything.”
“Oh please! We both know Neurotic Aggy is freaking out about this on the inside,” Dom stretched her arms over her head, looking languid and completely relaxed, which annoyed me even more. “I don’t see why you would freak out, though,” she mused thoughtfully, “You two would be cute together.”
For some totally random and insignificant reason, my heart started beating a teensy bit faster at her words, and I felt my stomach twist unpleasantly. Must have been all the...er, zen in the room making me feel this way. Yep! That was it! Zen. I should take this as a sign from the universe to never exercise again.
I scoffed loudly, attracting a slew of disapproving glares from the other students in the room, and snapped out of it. “Don’t be an idiot, Dom. I can’t stand Potter; he can’t stand me. End of story.”
“I never really understood why you hate Potter so much. I mean, I know when we were younger you guys had a whole rivalry thing going on, and you never approved of the influence he's had on Aidan. But we've matured. He's matured. What reasons could you possibly have now?”
“Oh believe me, I have a list I can give you. Would you like it alphabetically or by order of importance?”
Dom rolled her eyes. “You’re never going to change, are you?”
“Nope,” I grinned proudly, abandoning all pretense of actually giving a rat’s arse about this yoga class and standing to my full height. “Never. And neither is he. We’re going to hate each other until the end of time.”
“Either way, I still think you should talk to him. Establish some boundaries. I mean, is this snogging deal going to be a weekly thing? If so, you should have a schedule.”
“A schedule?” My brow crumpled in confusion. Schedule? What on earth was she talking about?
“Yes. A snogging schedule. And meeting places. And times. And back-up meeting places. And — ”
“Wait a second,” I interrupted hastily, feeling my face heat up as realization dawned. “Potter and I aren’t...aren’t snog buddies. What happened was just a whim!”
“Yeah. Three whims. In a row,” Dom drawled.
“Look. First time, he was drunk. Second time, I was drunk. And third time...Well, he was just trying to cheer me up or — or mess with me or something.”
“Whatever you say, Aggy,” Dom said airily, waving an arbitrary hand.
“Besides,” I pressed on insistently. I was proving a point, here. “There’s that Nora thing— ”
At this, Dom's playful expression rapidly changed, her face adopting a weird, exasperated look that made it seem as if she'd just remembered a particularily unpleasant chore she had to perform. Her lips tightened into a barely visible line, eyes misted over with something unnamable. “Oh, yeah. Nora.”
“I mean, she was his girlfriend.”
“And she's blonde. And tall..”
“So...let’s just drop this, alright?”
“Consider it dropped.”
There was a beat of silence. Something about the way Dom had seemed so ready to forget everything after the mere mention of Nora bothered me, nagging like a persistent jab in the side, but I didn’t question it. I was just thankful that the topic was over with and we could continue the rest of this class in peace, without the P-word ever being brought up again. Maybe we could even go out for frozen yogurt after class. No worries. No confusion. No pesky thoughts about the boy who’s hated me since we’ve laid eyes on each other. Just left-over endorphins and fat-free Pinkberry. Wonderful.
We were in Boat Pose when Dom finally spoke up again.
“I still think you should talk to him,” she said, and I literally had to bite my cheek in frustration. I mean, honestly! This was the girl who once tried to stab Evelyn with a shank made of lipstick and tape! Lipstick and tape! And now she wanted to act all responsible and Agony Aunt-ish?
“Dom!” My voice came out whinier than expected. Then again, I was in an extremely uncomfortable yoga position, my abs were burning, and it was getting difficult to breathe. Shit happens. “I thought we dropped this!”
“I’m sorry. It’s just... look, you’re my best friend, and I don’t want you to get hurt. This is Potter we’re talking about. He’s — ”
“Out of my league?” I arched a derisive eyebrow.
“No!” Dom countered quickly, but not quickly enough for me to believe her. “It’s just... He’s not going to sweep you off your feet and into a sunset, alright?”
“For the last time, I’m not expecting him to! We snogged! It’s not that big of a deal. People snog all the time!”
Dom shot me a look that clearly said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t.’ And as much as I hated to admit it, there was some truth in that. While Potter could call up any girl in the British Kingdom and score a date, the most action I’d ever gotten up until this year was when Professor Flitwick tripped over a pile of books and face-planted into my boobs (most awkward Charms class. Ever).
It would make sense for Dom to worry about me falling head over heels for Mr. Byronic Hero just like every other girl at Hogwarts and have him not feel the same way... It would make sense, except for one pesky fact: I hated Potter. I couldn't even imagine liking him as a friend! As an acquaintance! Every time I thought of him, my blood boiled hot enough to cook pasta. I could push him off the side of a cliff and be able to walk away with perfect ease, maybe catch a movie and some dinner afterwards. I despised him with every fiber, muscle, and eyelash of my being, and I fully understood that those kisses between us had just been unfortunate... happenstances. I wasn’t going to be deluded into some elementary school fantasy of love and red rose petals.
But Dom only shook her head slowly, closing her eyes at my protests. She sounded tired, almost worn. “Please, Aggy. Just promise me. His birthday’s tonight; I know Fred and Aidan are throwing him some ridiculous party. You’ll see each other there — try talking to him. Just to make sure you’re both on the same page, alright?”
I rolled my eyes, completely ignoring Dragonfly’s directions for us to go into shoulder stands. What kind of role reversal shenanigans were going on to make Dom the worried and concerned one, for once?
I liked it better back when she was shanking people.
“Fine, I promise," I said grudgingly. "But, just to be clear, I can handle myself. You have nothing to worry about.”
Here’s what I call fun:
Logging on to www.flourish-and-botts.com, buying everything in their newest stock of best-selling books — and then paying for it all on my dad’s credit card without asking for his permission first.
Yeah. I’m wild like that.
Here’s what James Sirius Potter calls fun:
Underage drinking, loud music, inappropriate displays of public affection—oh, and having all of these illicit activities take place in the middle of the fucking sky.
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes newest product, Floating Festivities (also known as the first ever future-lawsuit-in-a-box), not only defied any pre-conceived standards of underaged partying, but also gravity itself. Confused? Good. You’re supposed to be.
I was, too, when Dom and I snuck out of her house (I’d been “staying over” for the night) at around eleven o'clock and met Freddy on the corner of the street so he could take us to wherever Potter’s little shindig was.
...Which turned out to be a grassy abandoned football field. With no one in it.
“Can w-we just g-g-go home?” I complained loudly as the three of us stood shivering, ridiculously, in the middle of the field like a bunch of prize idiots. I didn’t know if we had been duped, if Fred had gotten the address wrong, or if this was all some elaborate Tweedle Trio plan, but I didn’t care to find out. I was tired, the December air was biting and unforgiving, and I wasn’t in the mood for any antics tonight.
“C-chill out for a s-second, Aggs,” Dom tried to sound upbeat and positive, but she was hopping up and down and her lips were slowly turning blue. “I’m sure F-F-Freddy knows what he’s d-doing. Right, cuz?”
But Freddy didn’t answer. He was too busy wandering around the snowy field, muttering strangely to himself and doing a great impression of an escaped mental patient from St. Mungo’s. “This should be it...Yes, yes, right here...”
I rolled my eyes, catching a glimpse of star-peppered midnight sky, before wheeling back to Dom. “This is ridiculous. Let’s just go back.”
Dom shook her head, and even though she looked as if she was displaying the first sure signs of hypothermia, she seemed determined. Her hair was glossy and curled into a fancy updo. I knew that, under her winter coat was a black v-neck shirt and the Dolce & Morgana onyx sequined skirt she’d been lusting after for the past month. And pus, her legs were shaved. Which meant we were officially past the point of no return.
If Dominique Weasley went to the trouble of shaving her legs for something, then you knew he meant business.
I looked down at my own outfit. Grey, acid-washed jeans from Urban Occlumency, a frilly lilac shirt, and simple black boots. It wasn’t to Dom’s degree of fanciness/effort, but considering that the last time I let my best friend dress me up for a party I had shown up looking like Madame Pince’s stripper alter-ego, I thought it would be best if I picked my own clothes for the night.
I blew out a sigh, watching as the white cloud of my breath puffed out in front of my face and melted into the icy air. Frost clung to the glistening grass underneath our feet. Above us, the sky was twinkling with an uncountable number of stars. There were so many of them, it almost looked like an accident, as if a galaxy had ripped open and spilled glittering silver everywhere. It really was a beautiful night.
And I was having none of it.
This was honestly ridiculous. Dom and I were supposed to be curled up in her parents’ king-sized bed (Mr. And Mrs. Weasley were out of town visiting Victorie the Fun-Sucking Bride), sharing a bowl of buttery popcorn and watching the latest film starring Oliver Wood, star athlete-turned-movie star-turned-owner of abs I could cry over.
But instead, here we were, standing in the middle of a football field for apparently no reason whatsoever. Remind me why I was friends with these people again?
“Aha!” Freddy suddenly shouted jubilantly, “I’ve found it!”
“This!” He exclaimed, obviously beside himself with pride as he threw his arms out in front of him.
Dom and I looked at each other. Freddy was gesturing to nothing but thin air.
Seeing our confused expressions, Fred veered his light eyes to the sky, smirking. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot you guys were amateurs.”
With that, Fred took out his wand from behind his ear and gave it a wave that trailed wisps of sparkling blue light. For a moment, I stared uncomprehendingly until three gleaming broomsticks appeared, hovering in the air. They were cheap Cleansweeps, but they looked shiny and new nonetheless, not a twig out of place.
“Shit, son!” Dom exclaimed, jostling past Freddy to reach the brooms. She picked one up and held it in her hands, eyes shining with wonder. “How’d you do that?”
I crossed my arms, looking around with paranoia before turning to Freddy. “And how, exactly, do you expect to get away with underage magic in a muggle area? The Ministry can track that kind of stuff, you know!”
“No, they can’t,” Freddy shook his head adamantly, grinning from ear to ear. He picked up a broom and tossed it to me, and I caught it without thinking. “Not unless they put a tracking spell on your particular wand. We’re in the middle of the outside world. There’s no possible way anyone could tell that spell came from me. That's why we hide the brooms out in the open, in random spots throughout the neighborhood. We turn them invisible, and then only the people who know where they are can find them.”
Dom and I looked at each other. For one moment there, Freddy had actually sounded... intelligent. Woah.
“Yeah, that’s right,” he added smugly to our stunned expressions. “How does it feel to be punched in the face — with the fist of knowledge? By Freddy motha-effin’ Weasley?” At this, he popped the collar to his polo shirt and leered towards me, obviously pleased with his amazing deductive reasoning.
I didn’t react. I simply stared at him with my arms crossed and an eyebrow raised. “Any good impression you might have just made is completely negated by your outfit,” I drawled. Dom snorted in agreement.
Affronted, Freddy gestured to his neon pink polo shirt, Tommy Bahama shorts, and the raybans sitting on his backwards cap. “Hey, don’t be hatin’ on my swag, you know I'm trill to the illest.”
“...Was that even English?”
“You must be crazy to be wearing that in this cold,” Dom pointed out, slicing in before I could further ridicule Fred for his fashion and vocabulary choices.
Fred puffed out his chest. “I’m a manly man. Manly men thrive in the cold."
"SometimesI wonder what your braincell count is, Freddy. I really do. It keeps me up at night."
Fred ignored my jibe. Sliding on his raybans (it was night time), he grabbed the last broom with ease and mounted it, staring ahead into the frigid sky the way a general might assess a battlefield before the war. “Alright, my young party newbies. We’re going to take a little flight.” He turned around to shoot me a glance over his sunglasses, eyes twinkling. “If that’s alright with you, Aggy. It’ll be really short, but you can ride with me if you’re scared.”
“I can handle it,” I snapped back, mounting my own broom. Honestly. At times I really hated being the only non-Quidditch player of the group.
“Where are we even going?” Instead of being accusatory or suspicious like me, Dom sounded almost eager to find out. These two would be the death of me, I knew it.
“You’ll see,” Freddy murmured ambiguously. He threw us a sly wink and, with a kick, was taking off into the night.
We had no choice but to follow.
It seemed to last hours, when, in reality, the flight must have taken only ten minutes. I followed Freddy as closely as possible, the icy wind dragging tears from my eyes, my fingers frozen to the broomstick humming beneath me. We climbed up higher and higher until the real world seemed to simply slip out from under us.
It was nice being up here, the wind in my hair. I felt untouchable. Looking down, I could see the warm lights of houses glimmering at me through the murky night. Muggles — completely oblivious, natch.
I could hear Dom’s delighted laughing behind me. Freddy was making whooping noises as he swooped and zig-zagged in little circles, ever the ‘Quidditch Bro.’ Show off. I picked up speed, ducking as Freddy swerved particularly close to my head, and we chugged forward.
I was almost about to call out to Freddy and start battering him with more questions, when we saw it.
It was like a very large dock, except there was no water underneath it. Stretching out to the size of a gymnasium, it was obnoxiously huge, a giant island in the sky. And it almost seemed to...to glow. I could already hear the faint strains of a pumping bass, and people laughing and screaming with excitement.
What. The. Fudge?
“No way,” Dom whispered incredulously. I whipped around to face Freddy, my jaw unhinged with disbelief. “I—Freddy—What is this?”
“My dad’s latest product,” he said, grinning as he skidded to a halt next to us, the wind flapping at his flowered shorts. “Floating Festivities. Basically, it’s a box that magically expands to a hovering piece of land. You can do whatever you want with it—for a limited amount of time, of course—but people usually like to save it for parties. No parents. No fuss. To anyone who’s not invited, it’s glamoured so that it simply looks like a rather low-hanging cloud. Pretty awesome, eh?”
“Fred,” I stuttered for a moment, at a complete loss of what to say. Was he crazy? He had to be. Not even he could be this stupid. “This is so—“
“—ridiculously dangerous! The number of things that could go wrong with this is just—“
“Relax, Aggy.” But Freddy’s maniacal grin was anything but relaxing. “It’s all taken care of. Loosen up a bit, alright? It’s a party!”
He bobbed over to me so close that our brooms were bumping together, and slung an arm around my shoulder. Slowly, he began to fly forwards—bringing me with him—and I was too stunned to resist. As we neared the Floating Festivities dock, I began to suddenly feel warmer. A lot warmer. As in ‘Caribbean-paradise-cruise’ warmer. There must have been more than a couple heating charms placed around the area.
Dom shrugged and — muttering something about leg stubble and nicked ankles and how this night better be good — followed us to the mini-island.
The closer we got, the more details I could make out. Strands of fairy lights—glass jars with real fairies buzzing inside—were strung around the island, hanging on four poles which were planted in each corner. There was a tiki bar at the very end. What looked like about three hundred people were crammed onto the island, laughing, mingling, already tipsy with the anticipation shimmering in the air. Circled around each of the four poles—which apparently were sturdier than they seemed—were giant open balconies, like the crow nests on a ship, piled high with gauzy, beaded curtains and lounge pillows. This seemed to be a hot spot for couples; I quickly averted my eyes.
“Ah! There they are!” With no explanation whatsoever, Freddy brought us down to a dive until we were floating so low, our feet were brushing the tops of people’s heads (something we quickly learned when Dom almost kicked someone in the face). We came to a stop, hovering right above — who else? — my brother and Evelyn, who were sitting by the bar and sipping identical ridiculously fruity, ridiculously girly drinks.
“Sister dearest!” Aidan hopped off his barstool, his voice booming loud over the noisy pop music bursting from invisible speakers, and quickly helped me down from my broom. The moment I leaped off, the Cleansweep zoomed away into the night as if it had a mind of it’s own.
“Is this real life?” I mumbled more to myself than anything as I stumbled over the ground and to the bar.
Aidan didn’t bother to answer, moving to help Dom down next. Freddy, meanwhile, had leaped off his broom on his own and was now in the process of mouth-attacking Evelyn’s face.
“Well?” Aidan exclaimed, thankfully pulling my gaze away from the nauseating PDA and back to him. He held out his arms. “Do I look good or what?”
He was wearing a red velvet blazer, boxer shorts with fluttering cupids on them, and tube socks. Nothing else.
“Fascinating,” I said. Dom cocked an eyebrow, her gaze flitting up and down his outfit, and said nothing.
“Alright, alright. You’re a little freaked, I can tell.” A little? Just a little? “How bout I show you guys around? It’s pretty wild, eh?” Aidan’s face was flushed, and he was chattering very fast. That fruity drink must have really gotten to him. “Oh, but before we go, there’s someone I want you to meet. Martin? Martin, mate, you here?”
“HALLLOOOO!” As if on cue, a bloke with crazy Einstein-esque hair and no shirt on popped up from behind the bar, carrying two bottles of tequila in each hand. He threw them in the air, juggling them a bit before they dropped on to one of the tiki lanterns ...and promptly set the whole apparatus on fire.
“This is Martin. He’s an exchange student from Germany and he’ll be joining us this semester,” Aidan said fondly as Martin hurried towards us, oblivious to the blazing inferno raging behind him. Evelyn briefly detached herself from Freddy’s face to set it out with a casual Aguamenti.
“Greetings, my yummy friends!” Martin threw his arms out and quickly pulled both Dom and I into a bear hug. There was glitter on his chest, and he smelled like green apples. Dear Lord. “What is in the up?”
“Um,” I said as Martin released us and we went stumbling back. The man was wearing bell-bottoms. Bell-bottoms. “Hi.”
Martin pulled away, grinning at us so ecstatically you would have thought he’d just saved Christmas or something, and declared, “I am here to serve the drinking!” He jabbed the air with a proud, dramatic pointer finger. “And to be your party-brother!”
And with that, he flounced off, chortling giddily to himself, and went back to crouching behind the now smouldering, half-burned-down tiki bar, presumably to scare the living daylights out of some other innocent young girls.
Aidan turned to us, a bright smile on his face. “This party is going to be a good one, I can tell.”
There were so many people. Glittery girls in cocktail dresses, Quidditch Bros in pinnies and glow-stick necklaces. All around me, there was something happening — a joke being cracked, a couple getting together, a prank being played out, a different couple breaking up. It was hard to keep track of Aidan as he led us through the sea of bumping bodies and jabbing elbows.
“Ah, Snapping Shots,” Aidan mused, eyes turning nostalgic as we passed a group of rowdy Ravenclaws (don’t let the nerdy front fool you — those ‘Claws could drink you under the table) clinking together little glasses of some steaming, undoubtedly alcoholic substance. “Nasty buggers. The glass literally bites you if you don’t down it fast enough.”
I didn’t care to pause and see if the Ravenclaws would get to keep all their fingers. We continued twisting our way through the crowd, Aidan acting as our unofficial tour-gide.
“And here we have a bunch of the guys on the Quidditch team playing strip-Exploding Snap — “
“See ya!” Without so much as a backwards glance, Dom was off, making a bee-line to the cluster of blokes. Dominique Weasley — straight to the nearest group of half naked males. What a surprise.
We walked on. Somewhere towards the edge of The Floater (as this contraption was apparently nicknamed) was a dance floor where a bunch of people were grinding rather inappropriately, their sloshing glasses raised high — toasting to a future of alcoholism and dysfunctional relationships in their thirties, no doubt.
“Oh, and here’s the keg. Though someone tried to magick it to spout out jell-o and now it’s all screwed up. It has a mind of it’s own,” Aidan whispered reverently.
We both turned to see some third-year struggling with the keg’s hose, which was flapping around spastically and slapping the poor child in the face anytime he tried to reach out for it.
“Shouldn’t we help him?” I asked uneasily, cocking my head to the side. For a moment, the two of us paused, contemplating the prospect of being good, moral people for once.
“Nah, he’ll be fine,” Aidan shrugged and grabbed my arm to lead me away, just as the hose started wrapping itself around the screaming third-year like a coiling boa constrictor. “Kid’s too young to be drinking, anyways.”
Ah, hypocrisy. So we meet again.
“Did you and Freddy really plan all of this...for Potter?”
“Yup,” Aidan nodded in response to my question as he grabbed a red solo cup from some unsuspecting bystander and chugged back its contents. We kept on walking, and Aidan tossed the now empty cup over his shoulder back towards its bemused owner. For a moment, I couldn’t help but be in awe of my brother... He was just so, well, Aidan. He could commit a murder and swagger away with that same easy grin on his face. “Are we the best or what?”
“Charming.” My sarcasm went unnoticed, though, as Aidan slid out a cigarette from behind his ear and slipped it in his mouth. I gaped at him while, brow furrowed in concentration, he pressed the tip of his wand to it so he could light it.
“Aidan!” I yelped shrilly. Then my jaw snapped shut and my freak out had it’s own freak out as I realized that the cigarette wasn’t actually a cigarette — but something else. “Aidan!”
“What?” A curl of rancid smoke blossomed out of my brother’s mouth. He ruffled his hair, face cracking into a satisfied grin, his shoulders losing their tension. “Woah, that’s good.”
“That is illegal!”
“Um, in case you haven’t noticed, Aggs, this whole party is like, a convention for illegal-ness. Just chill, alright?”
“Oh my god, you’re beginning to sound dumber already. Who the hell gave that joint to you?”
Aidan shrugged as if it were obvious, taking another hit of the thing. I watched the smoke curl out of his mouth with distaste. “James.”
My gaze flattened. Anger seemed to burble up inside me, clogging my airways. Oh hell no.
I turned on my heel, leveling my carefree brother with a dangerous, determined glare. “I’ll be right back.”
It wasn’t hard to find him — I just had to follow the scent of bad decisions and rampant narcissism and there Potter was, standing towards the very edge of The Floater, talking to three simpering girls who I didn’t recognize. One of them was placing a paper crown — the kind you get at a fast food place — on his head. He was smiling that same, mysterious smile as always, as if he had some secret joke that no one else was in on.
It didn’t even register for me to feel weird about Potter being surrounded by other girls. I was too busy thinking about my brother, the kid who — for all intents and purposes—was basically a six-year-old in a teenager’s body.
“How could you, Potter?!” I exclaimed loudly as I marched towards him, and Potter turned towards me, eyebrows already raised. The girls,sensing an oncoming fight, tittered and scurried away.
Before I could launch into a proper tirade about drug abuse and the idiocy that was this whole night, however, Potter smoothly had his fingers hooked around my belt loops and was pulling my body close — way too close — towards him.
“Hey,” he murmured, completely disregarding my hysteria, a slow, burning smile on his face. His dark hair was falling into heavy-lidded hazel eyes, which were currently — um — tracing the line from my neck to my jaw to my lips with unabashed intensity. “Who invited you?”
“Um.“ This closeness was unnerving, as well as the realization that Potter was completely and totally out of it. Like, ‘I-don’t-even-know-my-own-name’ out of it. And he was... coming on to me?
This, kiddies, is why drugs are not good. At that thought, I shook my head clear and launched into the tirade burbling inside me. "'Who invited me' is not the relevant question here, Potter. The relevant question is why you think it's okay to give my brother illicit substances — "
“Shut up,” Potter said suddenly, flippantly, and pulled me closer so that our foreheads were touching, his fingers still curled around my belt loops, his thumbs grazing against the revealed skin between my shirt and jeans. I was suddenly starting to feel very hot. His eyes were bright with feverish golds, dark greens, burning ambers. “Bennett. You need to learn to not talk so much.”
And then he was kissing my jaw and my neck, one hand moving from my jeans to cup the side of my face. I gasped raggedly at the feel of his mouth on my skin, searing, shocking. “Potter, what on earth are you doing?! Potter — someone could see — “
“I don’t care."
“Potter, seriously, stop it!“
"I don't care. You smell like Christmas."
“How bout — for my birthday — “ he was murmuring between kisses. My head lolled back, eyes fluttering shut as I briefly considered the oh-so-tempting offer of giving in. “You can give me — the present — of shutting the hell up?”
That did it. While any other day I would rather enjoy seeing Potter so undone, so completely intoxicated, I couldn’t deal with this right now. Hell, how did I know he wasn’t doing this to every sleazy girl that winked at him (and I’m sure there were plenty)? He seemed to be getting pretty chummy with those twits from before.
God. Look at me, putting down other girls for a boy. Had all of my self-respect and notions of feminism gone out the window? I was a mess.
With all the strength I possessed, I pushed Potter away. He stumbled backwards, close enough to the edge of the Floater that my heart seized momentarily, and then shoved a hand through his hair, flashing a rakish, crooked grin. For a moment, I allowed myself a small once over. His crown was sitting lopsidedly on his head, his hair curling slightly around his ears (fuck). He was wearing a dark green sweater with the sleeves rolled up (double fuck) and jeans.
I tore my gaze away. “Potter — “
“What is it now, Bennett?” He was smirking as he stepped closer. His voice was dark and smoky, a little hoarse from all the illicit activity he’d been partaking in, I suppose.
“What is it now?” Since Potter was a safe distance away, my head was starting to clear. Anger and irritation (mostly at Potter, but a little, admittedly, at myself for being such a hormonal idiot) was slowly resurfacing. “How about the fact that this Floater party thing is the dumbest idea ever? And the fact that you’re giving drugs to my brother? And just — just doing drugs in general?”
Potter stiffened, rolling his eyes. He seemed to sober up a little, his smirk turning down in irritation. “Seriously? Stop freaking out. It’s not like I’m his dealer, or anything.”
“Dealer?” I shrieked. “He has a dealer?”
“No — no. He doesn’t, okay? Will you stop flipping out and let me explain?“
“God, you are such a bad influence.” My voice was growing louder to cover his, and I could feel the usual sparks of irritation catching between us. Potter pushed another hand through his hair, gaze darkening in annoyance.
“Aidan’s hardly innocent," he said firmly. "It’s not like I pressured him into it or anything. This isn’t effing Third Year, alright, so you can save the after school special for later. He wanted some. Though I’m sure you’d like to think I slipped it in his drink or something — “
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“— I didn’t. Aidan can think for himself. Now just calm down, alright?”
I was seething. We were both seething. This — the two of us, this whole fucking situation — was just not okay, and I was sodding tired of all our back-and-forth, up-and-down. There was too much ambiguity, too many blurred lines and cavernous grey areas that stretched between us. It made no sense how one second, I wanted nothing more to grab Potter and snog him senseless, and the next, I was trying to bite his head off.
“This whole 'Floater' thing is stupid,” I said, trying to keep my voice level as I gestured around us. I had to stay on track, had to keep this argument going — otherwise I'd start noticing Potter's broad shouldres and the dark-bright way his eyes looked after drinking. “I mean, someone could seriously get hurt, Potter. Look at the edge! If some drunken idiot trips, takes one wrong step, he could fall over and kill himself.”
“That won’t happen,” Potter sliced through. His voice was clear and confident. He was so sure of himself it made my teeth grit.
“You can’t possibly guarantee that.“
“Yes, I can.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Potter dragged a hand down his face. “I just can, okay?”
“I don’t believe you. This is seriously the most dangerous — “
“— Idiotic, foolish, reckless —“
“Can you just shut up for a second?”
“— Idea you three morons have ever — AUGH! POTTER!” My voice broke into a scream as, without any warning whatsoever, Potter reached out... And with one firm hand, shoved me over the edge.
I stumbled, my arms flailing wildly as I tried to stop myself from falling to my death, but it was no use. Potter was too strong. I went cartwheeling over the edge of the Floater, falling into pitch darkness.
“POTTERRRRRRRRRRRRR!” My heart lodged itself somewhere in my throat as the world tipped over in a swell of silver stars and shimmering lights. I was falling, wheeling, plummeting down, down, down, and as I dropped through the overwhelming darkness like a stone, there was only one strangely calm thought in my head:
I was going to die today. At the hands of James Sirius Potter.
Of course it had come to this. Of course.
And then, all of a sudden, I hit something.
It was like a force field, but oddly flexible. Almost as if I had thrown myself against some giant, invisible trampoline. One moment, I was zooming to my death and the next, I was bouncing against something strong and sturdy and it was sending me back up the other way, towards the Floater. Boing.
“AUGHHHHHH!” I was floundering in the air as I tried to control my momentum. The Floater was getting nearer and nearer — or, rather, I was getting nearer and nearer to it. I had a horrible feeling that I would completely overshoot the platform and never get back on, doomed to spend the rest of this night bouncing up and down on this invisible force field.
But then, just as I reached the edge of The Floater, I felt this great gust of force against my back — one big push — and then all of a sudden I was falling on to the wooden floor of the island, stumbling, coughing from the icy air in my lungs, standing in the exact same spot as before.
My legs were trembling so much I could barely stand, the full fucking terror of what had just happened finally hitting me, but I was miraculously alive.
“Oh — my — god —” I could feel my heartbeat, sputtering like gunfire, inside my chest. The world was still spinning even though I had stopped moving. Around me, people were drinking and chatting like normal, as if what had just happened was a normal, completely every-day occurrence.
And Potter was laughing.
James fucking Potter was standing there — having just watched me almost plummet to my death, mind you — and he was laughing his sodding, annoyingly attractive arse off.
“I am going to kill you,” I said, very matter-of-factly, as I slowly advanced towards the prick. He put his hands up in a gesture that I guess was supposed to be defensive, but seemed slightly half-hearted on account of him laughing so hard.
“Okay, calm down,” He gasped out in between chuckles, practically doubled over. It briefly occurred to me that I’d never really heard Potter laugh this hard, this easily, and that it actually sounded... nice.
And then I remembered what he'd just done, and what an idiotic prick he was.
“I’m going to rip your heart out and feed it to raccoons. I’m going to play jump rope with your intestines,” I closed the space between us and made to shove him, but Potter grabbed my hands, still laughing uncontrollably, and together we backed closer to the edge.
“Funniest thing ever.”
“You are despicable!”
“— the look on your face — ”
"Awful, ignomious, terrible!”
“— I’m not even sorry —”
“ARGH! I can’t even... I hate you! You’re a terrible excuse for a human being!” With a furious shriek, I yanked my hands away from Potter’s and spun around in a flurry of anger and self-righteousness. Potter shook his head, rolling his eyes like he’d predicted this would happen, the amusement still in his voice as he called out to me.
“It was just a joke, Bennett. I knew you were going to be fine.”
“But I didn’t, you effing prick!” I snapped back, “Ugh, you are unbelievable.”
“That wasn’t a compliment,”
“I’m pretty sure that was a compliment.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Yes, it was. Are you confused as to what a compliment is, exactly?”
“It wasn’t a — ”
“A compliment, Bennett, is when you say something nice about a person.”
“I honestly want to kill you right now — ”
“For example,” Potter said simply, casually. “You look pretty tonight.”
I blanched. This was the drugs talking. That was all. I mean, Potter’s pupils were like the size of galleons right now. He was totally, totally out of it. He had no idea what he was even saying. No need to freak out, brain, or unleash that giant herd of butterflies into my stomach. Everything was completely cool.
I gaped at the prat for a second, unable to believe that the first time a boy called me pretty involved Potter. And then I shook my head clear, blinking rapidly. “You know what? I can’t deal with this right now,” I said finally. And with that, I wheeled around for the last time and stalked off towards the crowd.
It only took about two minutes before another one of The Idiots found me. Sigh. It was as if I had a built in magnet or something.
“AGGY! AGATHA MARIE BENNETT!”
For a second, I couldn’t find the source of the voice. I looked to my left — faceless drunk people. I looked to my right — more faceless drunk people. And then I looked up... And there was Freddy Weasley, leaning his whole body over the edge of one of the Floater balconies, eagerly screaming out my name for the world to hear and flapping his arms like a lunatic.
“AGATHA, GET YOUR WHITE-GIRL ARSE OVER HERE! I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!”
I figured I didn’t have a choice in the matter, since Freddy was going to continue screaming his lungs out whether I obeyed or not. Heaving a sigh, I began to climb up the twisting, narrow stairs that wrapped around the pole, trying my hardest not to look down at the sea of people’s heads below me as I got higher and higher.
When I finally got to the landing, I took one look at Freddy — sprawled languidly over the various throw pillows and blankets — and sighed. “First of all, my middle name’s not Marie. It’s — ”
“Sorry, we’re currently out of fucks to give!” Fred interrupted cheerfully. “Please come back in a few hours and check again!”
I drew back, affronted, and Fred flashed a charming grin. “Sorry, Aggs, but I don’t have time for small talk. Frankly, I have business to discuss with you,” he gave what I guess was supposed to be an intimidating chin-nod, and then gestured at the pillows next to him. “Sit.”
“Okay, Mr. Godfather.” I chose an adequately cushy-looking blue pillow and sat, surveying the view around me. Icy wind whipped at my face, breaking through the otherwise warm bubble around the Floater. “Would you like me to kiss your ring as well?”
“This is serious.”
I raised my eyebrows, keeping my mouth shut. Freddy serious was never a good thing. With a dramatic breath, the boy in question leaned forward towards the tiny cofee table at our feet and grabbed a bottle off it. There was no name identifying what type of liquor it was, just a rather menacing white label with a black capital X on it. I recoiled — this looked like the kind of bottle the evil step-mum gives the Disney Princess to drink. This bottle meant business.
In one fluid motion, Fred grabbed a tiny glass and poured me some of the drink. The liquid was red, and as it oozed out of the mouth, a cloud in the shape of a skull slipped quietly into the air and dissolved away.
Hmm. I wonder what this is made of? Gumdrops and baby aspirin, no doubt.
“Do you understand why you’re here, Agatha Marie?”
“For the last time, my middle name is — ”
“I know about you and James.”
The glass slipped out of my hand and on to the floor with a crack. Not wasting a second, Fred took out his wand from behind his ear and whisked the mess away.
“How?” I said, my voice breaking in half. But I already knew the answer:
“Dominique,” we both said in unison, although in completely different tones.
“She’s worried about you, Aggy," Fred elaborated. "She doesn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I honestly can’t believe her — ”
“Please. Dude. There aren’t many people out there who Dom cares about in this world. You should feel... privileged she felt concerned enough to come to me,” Fred offered an easy smile and held up the bottle. “More drink?”
“She completely disregarded my feelings and did the one thing I asked her not to do." I shook my head in disgust, ignoring Fred's offer. I could feel the beginnings of an angry rant coming on."You're right, Freddy. I should be ticked pink right about now."
Fred grimaced as he shoved another glass of evil-death-potion into my hands. I accepted it, not paying him any attention, wildly fuming to the sky. “Listen, Aggy — ”
“No, you know what? I'm not really in the mood right now — "
“I want to tell you about Nora.”
Once again, my glass slipped from my hand and onto the floor, breaking with a delicate tinkle. For a moment, I was too surprised to response. Given the stubborn silence and cryptic answers I'd been receiving from Dom and Aidan and Potter himself, I didn't think there was anyone out there who actually wanted to tell me the full story. “What?”
“Nora,” Fred said casually, but he was eyeing me carefully. “James’ ex.”
I sniffed for a second, trying to regain composure as Fred drew out his wand and repaired the mess at our feet. “I know who she is. What about her?”
“It’s a long story,” Fred began, looking — get out your cameras, people — completely somber. “For one, they didn’t actually break up.”
At this, I felt a chill lick up my spine, like I’d been doused in icy shivers. From the way Freddy had said that, not to mention Dom and Aidan’s strange reactions from before... I'd had my suspicions all along, but I was now really beginning to think Nora had — had—
I cleared my throat, trying my best not to flinch as sour anxiety flooded my stomach. “What happened?”
Fred leaned back into his seat, and for a moment, he just stared up at the sky, quiet and pensive. I could see the stars brimming in his clear eyes. His curly hair wavered in the breeze. “You know the Daubys? The family you and James babysat for?”
How did Freddy know about that? Oh wait, my best friend the blabbermouth. And Dominique strikes again! “Yeah?”
“Well, Nora is actually Lilia’s older sister.”
I was glad I hadn’t been holding another glass in my hand, because I surely would have dropped that one as well. I jerked back, my neck cracking painfully as this new information hit me. Mind sufficiently blown. “What?”
“That’s how James met her. They’re muggles, you see, but Mrs. Dauby is a good friend of Ginny’s. Family friends and all that jazz.”
Fred took a deep breath. I sensed that the big part of the story was coming, and inwardly, I braced myself.
“The thing is, Mr. and Mrs. Dauby aren’t Nora’s real parents. She’s really their niece, you see, but Nora’s parents passed away a long time ago, so the Dauby’s became her legal guardians. And, well, it's been hard to say the least. I mean, Nora and Lilia were still close even though they weren’t actually sisters, but... You know. Mr. and Mrs. Dauby weren’t used to taking care of a kid who wasn’t theirs. They didn’t really know how to go about handling it. It was a sticky situation.”
I nodded, able to imagine how family dynamics like that could get complicated. “Go on.”
“Nora was amazing. I met her quite a few times, seeing as she’d been James’ girlfriend. She was funny as hell, and there was something about her that just...drew people to her, you know? But. She had...problems. Mood swings. She would be fine one day, and then the next she’d refuse to come out of her room, and would just stay in bed all day. James was the only one she’d talk to when she had one of her episodes.” Freddy paused, swallowing hard. All I could do was look at him, my heart thudding furiously in my chest, trying to imagine this Nora girl and what she was like. Beautiful and enigmatic, probably, but twisted on the inside. The kind of girl who had nothing to lose. The kind of girl who could dangle her body out a speeding car window and laugh in a way that would both terrify and amaze you. The kind of girl whose sad eyes that you remembered.
“For a while, her and James were good. I mean, he was crazy about her. You couldn’t possibly imagine.”
No, I really couldn’t.
“But then Nora took a turn for the worse. It wasn’t her fault, you see, she was sick. She turned to self-harm. Cutting. And it... it killed James. They would have fights all the time about it. Bad fights. They would scream at each other and she would throw things and it was just — ” he broke off, shaking his head. “Really, really unhealthy.”
“When they didn’t fight, he would ask her to stop with the cutting, she’d promise him she would and for a while, things would get better. But then she’d go back to it, to self-harm, and everything would get bad again. Eventually, James gave her an ultimatum — seek professional help, or else he would break up with her. Said he couldn’t stay with her if she kept on hurting herself like this.”
There was something lodged in the back of my throat. I felt faintly nauseous, listening to all of this and knowing that Potter had been through so much. Knowing that he had a whole life outside of me and our petty bickering, and that while I had been dedicating my time to envisaging and executing the 72 different ways in which I could insult Potter in one conversation, he'd been dealing with real problems.
“She stopped self-harming for a while, agreed to eventually go to counseling. And for a month or two, things were really okay. But then — ” Fred grimaced and took a swig out of the bottle, fiercely swiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He drew in a shaky breath. “There was a close call. This summer, Nora... Nora tried to kill herself.”
A soft noise escaped my mouth as I felt all the air whoosh out of my lungs. Fred closed his eyes and continued on, face scrunched in almost pained concentration as if he was trying to recite something from memory. I wanted to tell him to stop, that I didn’t want to hear anymore, but I knew I couldn’t run away like last time. I had to listen.
“That was the last straw for James. He took the car and picked her up and drove her to the nearest mental facility. Didn’t even ask the Dauby’s for permission first. When Nora realized where they were going, she put up a fight. Oh, she put up a fight. She screamed and kicked the whole way there. She’d trusted James, she said, and taking her to this place was a huge betrayal. After he checked her in, she told him to never speak to her again. And he hasn’t since.”
There was a long silence, in which Fred stared into the mouth of the bottle as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world, and I tried to regain control of my breathing.
“So she’s at the facility right now?” I finally said, because it was all I could say. My mouth was dry and my thoughts were whirling. I tried to imagine that car ride, how awful it must have been. If Aidan or Dom had been doing something like that — I couldn’t even finish the thought.
“Yeah. See, there's a short period of time — 24 hours, maybe — in which a mental facility is legally able to keep a patient against his or her will if it's been established that said patient is at risk of harming themselves," Fred explained, remarkably coherent. "After the period was over, the Daubys eventually agreed it would be the best course of action for Nora to get help. They checked her in another rehab center, indefinitely. James and Nora still don't speak.”
“And Potter...?” I began slowly, already dreading the answer to my next question. “Does he still... love her?”
Fred finally turned to me. He was smiling a sad sort of smile, his lips quirked with sympathy. “What do you think, Agatha?”
His face said it all.
And that was when Nora became real. When everything finally hit me. Potter didn’t care about me, not one bit. He was in love with Nora. He was in love... with Nora.
There was a long silence.
“I think,” I gave a small humorless laugh and stood up, my legs shaking. “I think I’m an idiot.”
“This is why Dom was so worried, Aggs — " Freddy began desperately.
“Yeah, sure. Of course. Look, I just need to...get some air, alright?” I said, even though this made no sense because we were in the fucking outdoors already. But my head was foggy with confusion, and 'making sense' had dropped a couple rankings on my priority list — to a spot right under 'drowning in guilt' and 'getting the fuck outta here.'
Without thinking, I snatched the bottle from Fred’s hands and downed its contents —there wasn’t that much left given the combined effects of Fred's generosity and my butterfingers, but it still burned, roaring down my throat like fire.
I handed the drink back to Freds and turned around, stumbling down the stairs and ignoring his half-hearted calls for me to wait.
The minute I stepped back on the actual Floater, I started searching for Potter. It was hard to find him — the party had gotten a lot more intense, heightening to a fever pitch. People were louder, rowdier. A group of some laughing blokes jostled me as I tried to push past them, but I didn't even bother to pay them any attention. There was only one thought on my mind...
And then he was right in front of me, sitting on the edge of the Floater with his legs in the air, a cigarette in his mouth, dark hair ruffled and dipped with moonlight. There was a group of laughing Gryffindors around him. They were all shoving each other good-naturedly, buoyant and in high spirits over some inside joke.
I walked over, not knowing what to do but knowing that I had to move, had to speak, had to say something. “Hey, Potter! Can we talk?”
Potter turned around, eyes dark and burning, and his expression turned wry when he saw it was me. "Would it make a difference if I said no?"
I cut to the chase, my resolve strengthened by the alcohol sloshing in my belly. “I need to ask you about Nora," I said boldly.
Potter snapped his mouth shut.
There was a beat of silence. The group around us shared a couple whispers, regarding our exchange with raised eyebrows.
Then he said, quietly, flatly. “Who told you? Who told you what happened to her?”
He had taken one look at my face, and automatically, he had been able to tell that I'd heard the truth about Nora. It had always been amazing, how well he could read me.
With a long sigh, Potter stood, taking a drag of his cigarette, and together we moved out of hearing range from the group. I straightened my shoulders, feeling my vision begin to lag with the oncoming effects of Freddy's alcohol, and tried to perpare myself for the inevitable argument. “Who told you?” Potter repeated, voice husky with anger. “Freddy? Dom?”
It was weird, hearing him say her name. His voice seemed to carry the word as if it was a heavy, unbearable weight. I looked him in the eye, trying not to tremble.
“It doesn't matter who told me,” I said, and I was surprised that my voice came out harsh as well. I had planned to go up to him and maybe apologize, offer some sympathy. But instead, I felt fury bubbling slowly in my bloodstream. It was irrational and unwarranted, but it felt good to be set on one emotion and one emotion only: anger. “All that matters it you didn’t.”
Potter stepped closer to me, eyes flashing at my accusatory tone. “Yeah, Bennett. I didn’t. For a fucking reason.”
“Well too bad,” I snarled, letting the anger break through me. It felt so good, so addicting, so intoxicating to just let go. “Because I found out anyways, about five minutes ago, and you know what? I’m mad, Potter.”
“Mad,” he laughed a bitter, strangely hollow-sounding laugh. “At me?”
“Yes, at you. Because — ” he still loved her, and he’d kissed me, and he still loved her. “Because — ”
“Let me stop you there, Bennett, so you can save the oxygen for your precious few braincells — I don't care. Whatever the reasons are for your latest self-pity party, I don't want to hear them.
“Fuck you!” By this point, I didn’t care about witty banter or snarky insults. I was mad because he had hurt me, because he had held the power to do so in the first place. “You know what, Potter? Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.”
Potter flicked the ash off his cigarette, shaking his head. "This conversation is over."
He was mean. Simple as that. James Sirius Potter was a mean person. He was cruel, to be able to kiss me and tell me I smelled like Christmas, and then turn around and throw acid insults in my face. He was just a mean, mean person. He’d never be anything else.
“Is it possible for you to stop being an arsehole for like five seconds? Is it really that hard?” I was close to yelling, and people — not just those close to us — were starting to stare. Potter took a drag of his cigarette, looking almost bored.
“I told you to stop snooping around, Bennett, it isn’t that hard. You could have just left the issue alone, and everything would have been fine.“
“No, no it wouldn’t have. Why couldn’t you just trust me?” I spat out, feeling the warm alcohol buzz in my veins. Stay strong, Aggy. Don’t let him win. “Why did you have to tell all my friends and not me?”
“Goddamn it, Bennett!” And finally, there was the anger. It came flashing in his eyes, curling at his fists. For a moment I backed away, actually caught off guard. “This is so typical, how you just turn everything around and make it about you!”
“I’m not!” I said, in a very small voice. “I just — ”
“I’m confused, okay?” I exploded, throwing my hands out in the air. “You obviously still love her, this Nora girl, and yet you’re going around, kissing me, using me. For what? Do you get some sort of sick rush out of it? Or am I just like your alcohol and your drugs and your cigarettes — a cheap way to get rid of the past for a little while?"
Potter said nothing, just stared at me, face like stone. I barged on with my rant. "Well, I’m here now, right in front of you. And I hope you’re happy that you get to see me like this. Do you want to know what I’m feeling?”
I paused, blinking rapidly.
“Stupid. I feel like an idiot, like the rug's been pulled out from underneath me. Because you’re right — I actually mistook you for someone who cared. Don’t get me wrong — ” I added quickly. “I know I’m not your girlfriend. Ickle Aggy is smart enough to realize that when a boy kisses her, it doesn’t have to mean he has to like her. But I at least thought that you respected me enough not to use me as some way to get over your ex."
My voice was trembling, but I didn't care. I had to get it all out, had to purge myself of this. "So fine. We can play the game where we act like we don't mean anything to each other, where it’s just fighting and insults and nothing else. But you know what?”
“I’m tired of it. I’m freaking tired of it.” My voice, already small and weak, finally broke. “And I’m wrecked. You wrecked me.” I wasn’t making much sense; this was the alcohol talking now, but somehow, the words just felt right.
Potter stared at me, face flickering with something unreadable, eyes guarded. There was a long pause, and I looked around to see a ring of onlookers surrounding us, gaping with fascination. Some drunken Quidditch Bro started to slow clap, but was quickly shushed by his gaping girlfriend.
“I think we shouldn’t see each other for a while,” Potter finally said quietly. And it was hilarious, really, because this whole thing sounded like a break-up when we’d never been together in the first place.
I stared at him, flatly, numbly. “That’s all you have to say?”
“Bennett." His eyes flicked up and down my body. “You're drunk.”
I laughed. “Fuck you.”
“I don’t think that’d be wise.” Always the snarky response.
“Fuck off, then. That better?”
He smiled grimly, shook his head. “Whatever, Bennett.”
And that’s what did it. That stupid, flippant, ‘I’m-so-much-better-than-you, I-don’t-want-to-waste-my-time-on-your-immature-antics’ whatever.
Slowly, I turned, faking like I was about to go — and then quick as lightning, I whipped back around, slamming my fist into his face and, for once in my life, finally catching James Sirius Potter off-guard.
There was a sickening crunch, and then there was a gasp from the crowd, and then there was blood. Potter went stumbling backwards, but I didn't wait to see the consequences of what I'd done. I walked away from it all, from him, from the whole stupid, fucked-up situation, with a satisfied smile on my face.
I was half-way to the back of the Floater, where I knew the brooms were stored, when I realized there was something wrong.
It had suddenly gone oddly quiet, hushed in a very wrong way. The music had turned off. For one, pulsing moment, everything was completely still.
Then: screaming. And sirens.
For a moment, guilt and panicked seized me. I had the crazy, irrational thought that I was somehow responsible for the sirens, that me punching Potter had caused this. But then I realized that this had nothing to do with Potter and I, and what had happened between us just seconds ago. This was bigger, somehow. This was surprise and hysteria, this was fear rippling through the crowd like a shockwave.
“COPS!” Someone was yelling. “EVERYONE GET OUT, IT’S THE COPS!”
And that was when all hell broke loose.
I stood, dazed, and watched a cluster of WizCops — in their trademark purple, Ministry of Magic uniforms — fight through the crowd, grabbing at screaming kids. More were starting to descend on broomsticks, blocking the swarms of students from leaving. Some of the cops, I realized with an awful twist to my stomach, were using stunning spells. There were lights — the brightest lights I’d ever seen, whirling through the mob from panicked face to panicked face. I stood glued to my spot, people shoving and pushing all around me.
It was like an animal stampede. Savage. Panicked. Everyone trying to get away at once, trampling over each other. I had made the mistake of standing still, and in once second, I was down, pushed to the floor.
I couldn’t get up. I just stayed there, immobile, frozen, staring above me at the flashing lights and the icy stars. In an odd, almost detatched manner, I wondered where Aidan was, if Dom and Freddy were safe. My breath was coming out in short, freezing puffs. That’s when I realized — the heating spell was gone. This whole thing was shutting down, down, down. This whole night had been a surreal mistake, a spiralling-out-of-control.
And then, suddenly, there was a hand on my arm. A voice in my ear. “Let’s go.”
I looked up and, for a second, thought I was staring at an angel. It was an oddly familiar face with a name I couldn’t quite remember. Blonde hair, eyes like a cloudy winter day. In his hand, a shiny, miraculous Cleansweep.
“Ryan,” I breathed. “What — what are you doing here?”
He gave that quick, charming grin I had almost forgotten. “Saving you.” He paused, cocked his head. “And redeeming myself.”
And so I said nothing while he hauled me up and straddled his broom. And I said nothing as he grabbed my arms, wrapping them securely around his chest before asking if I were ready. And I said nothing as, with one final kick, Ryan Fisher launched into the sky, taking me with him.
A/N: Phew! Turns out, Aggy's a bit of an angry drunk, eh? /Poor taste. Anyways, thanks for reading, and please drop a review if you have the time. I'm a little iffy about the chapter (sooo much drama! sooo many hypens!) so if you can tell me what you liked and didn't like down there, that'd be great :3
Also, to the (probably large) bunch of you who didn't get the 'Quidditch Bro's or 'pinnies' references: that was a chill head nod to the wonderful sport of lacrosse and it's fascinating subculture, lax bros.
Anyone care to lax/Quitch? ;)
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