Chapter 34 : Blur
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Here’s the thing about telling someone that you’re "done" with them, that you never want to speak to them again, that any shred of interaction between the two of you has been completely, utterly, irrevocably dissolved:
The effect doesn’t exactly carry out as intended if, thirty minutes later, the two of you are crammed tightly together inside a car roughly the size of a shopping cart.
For two whole hours.
Pressed against Potter’s left side, my knee grazing white-hot against his, I gulped in deep breaths and tried to keep myself from screaming bloody murder. Merlin knew hollering like a loony wouldn’t be beneficial to my public image — which apparently tends to suffer when you incite a high speed Death Eater chase through a half-destroyed governmental building. While barefoot. And wielding a sword.
Yeah. In Hr. Malfoy’s words, I’d been declared "slightly unhinged, with a self-destructive attitude and a warped sense of priorities." Which, in fancy psychoanalyst language, basically meant I had turned into one of those girls who hurls herself off cliffs and into oceans just so she “can see what it’s like to feel again.”
Which, in Bad Teen Romance Novel language, meant I was off my rocker.
Aidan evidently seemed to agree with Hr. Malfoy's assessment. He was currently sitting on my other side, his shoulders and neck hunched under the low roof of the car, constantly shooting me these shifty, concerned glances. Like he was afraid that at any moment I might dive out of the sunroof and dance naked into oncoming traffic for funsies, or something.
I saved his life. The arsehole.
Then again, those shifty glances might not be due to my "self-destructive attitude’"(because let’s face it, surely the bloke's accepted the fact that his sister’s a nutter by now), but rather, my close proximity to Potter. Which, according to the Universal Laws of Overprotective Brotherhood, was a Cause for Suspicion.
When we were clambering into the car, I swear I’d seen a strange flicker in Aidan’s eyes as I slid into the backseat next to Potter. He’d looked almost hostile, and for a second I thought he was going to try and lunge over me so he could sit in between us. But then the moment was gone and I knew, in Aidan's teenage boy mind, that turning into a virtual human barrier to protect his sister didn’t quite outrank the loss of dignity that would come with sitting bitch.
“You know what Hr. Malfoy says, Aggy,” Mr. Potter was instructing from the front. It was so weird to watch him, The Chosen One, do something as menial as driving. His hands were relaxed on the steering wheel, his movements easy and sure. La dee da. Death Eaters, wandfire, destruction, explosions. Just another day in the life of Harry Potter.
“Make sure you stay hydrated," Mr. Potter was saying. "You exerted yourself a lot tonight so you need rest. I'm going to try and contact your mother and stepfather to let them know everything that's happened, but for tonight you should just focus on recovering.”
I was amazed that Mr. Potter could be acting so kind and reassuring right now. His remarkably calm attitude almost made it feel like this was all completely normal, like we were just some jolly road trip family on the way to the beach or something.
But no. Instead we were driving home, away from the half-destroyed Ministry, away from the Death Eaters who had, amidst all the confusion and chaos, narrowly escaped the Aurors and disappeared into the darkness. Away from that whole awful, blasted nightmare of a ball.
And Potter was pressed fully, unavoidably, into my side. I could tell he was trying to put as much space in between us as possible. He had practically glued himself to the side of the car door, and his jaw was clenched into a pained grimace. He obviously would rather be anywhere but here, sitting next to me, and the thought made my chest throb.
Pushing the thought of Potter firmly out of my head, I gazed out the windshield into the dark glaze of midnight and let my mind wander. A hot shower sounded nice right about now. And a warm, cozy bed with squishy pillows. Yes. I knew exactly what I was going to do. The minute the car pulled into the Potter’s driveway, I would make a beeline to the bathroom, then to bed, then to blissful, beautiful sleep...
This lovely idea, however, turned out to be nothing more than a far-fetched pipe dream by the time we finally arrived home. Because when the car finally pulled into the driveway, and Mr. Potter cut the rumbling engine, and Aidan, Potter and I shook ourselves awake... We got out of the car —
— and walked straight into an epileptic’s worst nightmare.
I whirled backwards, slamming into the side of the car as my vision was overtaken by a sudden burst of bright, blinding light. Then I turned and realized that it wasn’t the hard surface of the Pottermobile I had stumbled into, but rather James Potter’s torso.
I looked dizzily into his scowling face and, eyes widening, tripped backwards again — this time actually hitting the car.
“Miss Bennett!” Flash.
“Over here!” Flash. Flash.
“Agatha Bennett — what are your opinions on the low quality of security at the Ministry?” Flash.
“Aggy! Any idea who the perpetrators were?” Flash. Flash. Flash.
“What were you thinking when you took that sword?”
In the wintry night air, I looked around me and saw an overwhelming mass of people crowded around the Potter mansion. They all held cameras — that was what was making the flashes — and together they formed a sea made of icy, sparkling blossoms of light.
It almost would have been pretty, if it weren’t for the dread welling up inside me.
“Paparazzi,” Potter growled, and I could see, for once, the surprise playing on his features. Surprise mingled with anger. It was obvious he wasn't a big fan of reporters, probably from having had to deal with them his whole life. Seeing them on the front lawn of his house was an unwelcome sight for him, no doubt.
I watched as his shoulders tensed and, for a moment, his arm reached out instinctively. Towards me. As if he wanted to grab me by the elbow and... help me, or something. Guide me through the crowd. Ever the Gryffindor, Potter and his stupid, noble reflexes wanted to make sure I was okay.
But then our eyes met, and we both seemed to remember that such a thing wasn't allowed anymore, not after what had happened tonight. We weren't speaking, after all. To use Potter's words — we were "done."
And so I felt my stomach lurch as Potter clenched his jaw, lowered his arm firmly to the side, and turned away.
Self-restraint, thy name is Potter.
Trying to ignore the strange emotions churning inside me, I looked back towards the sea of lights that was surging forward, standing between us and the front door of the house — and more importantly — me and my bed.
Somehow, in the course of two hours, I had turned famous.
“Oh hell no,” Aidan whispered as he came to stand beside me.
Couldn’t have said it better myself, brother.
Mr. Potter quickly got out of the car and went to help Ginny, but not before surveying our surroundings in profound dismay and growling a string of profanities. “Oh no, Agatha, we’re so sorry about this — ”
“It’s fine really, not your fault!” I tried to yell across, but was promptly drowned out by the clamoring hoard of people screaming my name. Oh, fuck. I hadn't been shouted at this loudly since the time last summer when I'd accidentally walked in front of the telly while Potter, Aidan and Fred were trying to watch the last few seconds of the Quidditch Cup.
Aidan and Potter went back around the car to help Mr. Potter with Ginny, leaving me standing like a Petrificus’d chipmunk as I stared into the crowd.
I was so not cut out for this.
“It’s The Girl Who Saved the Sword!”
“Aggy, blow us a kiss!”
“Agatha: Butterbeer or Firewhiskey?”
“Zonko’s or Wizards’ Wheezes? Chudley Canons or Puddlemere?”
The last question almost had me.
My mouth dropped open as I readied myself to say that the Canons were the only obvious contenders for this year's World Cup, and anyone who said otherwise should be made to repeat kindergarten, when a reemerging Mr. Potter grabbed me by the arm.
“Agatha! Are you ready?”
I turned blankly to him. “What?”
Mr. Potter’s lips quirked into a bitter, almost apologetic smile, and I felt a twinge of guilt, remembering that I was the reason for all of this chaos. He smiled that bracing smile of his and said matter-of-factly, “To run the gantlet, of course.”
And then, his hand gripping my elbow, we dived into the crowd.
But as it turns out, when faced with a fervent group of reporters, using Harry Potter — the most famous man in the wizarding world — as a human shield isn’t exactly the best tactic.
“Harry! Harry! Did you get the toenail clippings I sent you?” One reporter (who, now that I thought about it, probably fell more under the ‘crazed stalker' category) lunged at Mr. Potter, wrenching his grip from my arm. My cry of surprise was muffled by the ensuing clump of people swarming towards The Boy Who Lived.
It was like being in a mosh pit. On steroids.
“Argh — no, not the hair! — AGATHA, SAVE YOURSELF,” Mr. Potter managed before he was dragged away into the mass.
I gaped after his disappearing form and then whipped around, trying to stifle the panic welling inside me. Where was Aidan? WHERE WAS AIDAN?
Shit. SHIT. CALM DOWN. Oh god, my claustrophobia was really kicking in! This was the end, wasn't it? — This, right here, this was how I was supposed to go down!
How did one even explain death by claustrophobia? Was I really going to be known forever as the girl who survived the Death Eater attack but then later died because she was — what — around too many people?!
Agatha Bennett: Incredibly lame in life and in death. Great.
If Dom were here, she’d tell me to get a hold of myself and calm my tits. But she’s not. She’s not here and I’m PANICKING AND OH GOD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY TITS WHY WON’T THEY JUST CALM. THE FUCK. DOWN.
I turned around and my panicked eyes landed on a blonde reporter who was practically foaming at the mouth, clutching a quill and notepad, her crimson nails shining in the moonlight. It was obvious she wasn’t here for just another ‘Go Team Ministry!’ article. No, she wanted the juicy gossip. She wanted a story.
“First of all, I would like to say it’s very remarkable that you managed to put you and all your friends in such jeopardy and still emerge alive. Very good luck indeed.” Her smile was wide, but her tone vicious. Her statement was both a compliment and an insult. I was more than a little confused.
“Er, thanks?” I began distractedly, searching for an exit path, but she was already speaking once more.
“Agatha, I would like to ask for comment on a circulating rumor. You see, it’s been — ah — suggested that you have been associating yourself with the Potter family as a way to put yourself in the public limelight. And this, well — stunt, we’ll call it — at the Ministry tonight was just another desperate plea for attention. Now, Witch Weekly wants to know — is this true? After all, we all know how needy teenaged girls can be.”
What? Shame flushed through me, hot and furious, and I snapped my attention to the woman in front of me. “Erm — I — well,” I stuttered helplessly. My insides gave an unpleasant twist. Did people actually think this? What if Mr. and Mrs. Potter, who had been so kind to me, heard this lie and believed it?
“Well?” The reporter demanded cruelly, insistently. Why was she being so horrible? What had I ever done to her? “Quite frankly, appearances would have to agree. You look the type. Plain, boring, cast aside..." She paused, simpering, before going in for the kill. "I’m sure that when you found the Sword, you saw within it a chance to escape a miserable fate of mediocrity. Let me guess — you’ve always been hiding behind the shadows of some older, better, brighter sister... Am I right?”
“Actually,” began a voice that I recognized instantly, and Potter stepped forward from the crowd. I took in his raised eyebrows, the wry twist of his mouth, hardly believing it all. He was saving me, pulling me out of this mess. Even after everything that had happened. “You have it wrong.”
But... his voice wasn’t right. It was laughing, disdain and contempt tugging on its syllables. The sound of it slammed into my chest like lead. “No sister. She hides behind her brother instead. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the other stuff were true; she is a Slytherin, after all.”
It was like a slap to the face. The reporter cackled in delight, scribbling this lovely new information down, and my mouth dropped open as the betrayal welled inside me. THE ARSE. How could he?
Potter’s expression was bitingly unapologetic as he folded his arms over his chest; there was a slight, smug lilt to the corner of his mouth, a challenge sparking in his gaze.
I wanted to punch him — I was going to punch him — but then I remembered. We were in front of a bunch of camera-happy reporters and, more importantly, his parents. Most likely the two worst possible demographics to be witness to me kicking the shit out of James Potter. I would have to abstain.
Looking into Potter’s stupid, smirking face, I stated louder than necessary to the reporter: “I would never take advantage of the generosity that Mr. and Mrs. Potter have showed me. That is my comment.” I wanted to add some snarky remark about Potter, a jab I could throw in to give me the last laugh, but I stopped myself. It’s what he’d expect you to do, my brain scolded. Be the bigger person, Aggy.
So instead, I lowered my voice and looked Potter directly in the eye, for once not bothering to mask my emotions, for once letting the hurt bleed into my voice. “I can’t believe you’d think that.”
Potter was no longer smirking. His face betrayed no singular emotion — just the slightest darkening of his eyes — as he spun around, broad shoulders pushing through the crowd.
I fought back the urge to holler something nasty at his retreating frame. It was funny — being the bigger person and being the loser felt oddly similar.
I turned back to Nasty Blonde Reporter, who was still watching me with sharp, beady eyes.
“What do you want?” I snapped. “Haven’t you had your fill?”
Judging by the ghastly smile on her face, she hadn’t. Not yet. “Oh, Agatha Bennett, I’m going to have some fun with you.”
And then she snapped her notepad into a crocodile case, gave another simpering smirk, and stalked off.
When I finally made it inside the Potter mansion, my elbows were sore from pushing through so many people, my vision had been sufficiently ravaged from the camera flashes, and I'd become the first person in the world to get the bedraggled "sex hair" look without actually having sex.
I gingerly stumbled through the front door, directing what seemed like all the strength in my body into not falling and acquiring a minor head injury. The heavy front door swung shut behind me, and at last there was silence.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU LEFT HER ALONE OUT THERE?!”
I automatically flinched as Harry Potter’s dulcet tones bellowed through the hallway, coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchen. Oh boy. It sounded like Mr. Potter was mad. And It sounded like he was talking about me.
“I had to go find mum,” came Potter’s calm, unflappable reply. I could just imagine him sitting there, leaning back in his chair with lazy arrogance, not a concern in the world. I had to admire him for keeping his cool. Under such fatherly disapproval, I would have caved long ago.
Then again, I was a scaredy brown-noser Slytherin who constantly craved outside validation from adults. One of my top goals in life was to find a boyfriend that my parents would actually like. Yeah, that's right. Like.
“Agatha is our guest, James. And we are supposed to be hospitable to our guests,” Mr. Potter’s voice was straining with obvious anger. “We are not supposed to leave them to drown in a swarm of paparazzi! That's not a very hospitable thing to do.”
Potter snorted. “Please. She was fine. She was talking up all the reporters, probably having the time of her life.” The utter contempt in his voice stung, and my mouth dropped open in outrage.
Oh yeah, getting battered with lies and insults by some woman with a bad perm was exactly what I considered a fun Friday night. In fact, it was listed in the Hobbies section of my Wizbook page, right under 'root canal surgery' and 'math homework.'
“Still, it’s your responsibility to look after her — ”
“She is not my responsibility.” For once, Potter’s voice held a spark of anger, almost bordering on a shout. It was completely opposite his usual bored, apathetic drawl, and my heart skipped a beat at the intensity.
There was a pause. Than Mr. Potter said, significantly, “That’s not what you seemed to think at the Ministry. When you carried her outside.”
A scoffing laugh. “Just drop it, okay, dad? Stop pretending like you actually know what’s going — ”
“You care about this girl, James, I know you do. I can see it, she's your friend—”
“— So why’d you leave her outside?”
“I told you, I had to take care of Mum! Someone in this family has to, at least.”
The implied accusation hidden in Potter’s voice was painfully obvious. For a moment, the conversation seemed to jerk to a halt. I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my own ears as I held my breath, waiting for the next word.
When Mr. Potter spoke again, his voice was frosty cold.
“This isn’t how I raised you, James.”
“You? Raise me? Let’s not delude ourselves, dad.”
There was a tense pause.
Finally, Mr. Potter let out a long-winded sigh. It seemed as though he had no response and was now just giving up.
I hadn’t known surrendering was The Chosen One’s style. Then again, it turned out there were a lot of things I hadn’t known about the fabled Potter family.
“I’m going to find Agatha,” Mr. Potter said civilly. “I trust Aidan and your mother made it into the house fine?”
There was a hitch of silence. For a second, I thought Potter was going to ignore his dad completely. But then he said, just as restrained and polite as his father, “Yeah. They did.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Mr. Potter’s voice seemed to carry a tinge of guilt. I could tell that he hated that it wasn’t him, but his son, who had to be the one responsible for Ginny. My heart ached for the poor guy. “Check up on Lil, will you? I think your mother already did but... Just in case.”
I had heard Mr. Potter say all of this, not really registering the full implications of his words as I nodded along — eardrums perfectly intact, understanding of the English language as clear as ever. I stood rooted to my spot, thinking vaguely: ‘Oh, sweet, he’s going to come find me? What a nice guy, that Mr. Potter! He’d make a great father-in-law. Too bad his son’s a douche. Oh well, there’s always Albus.’
But then, things started to click together. Mr. Potter was going to leave to find me... Me, the girl who was currently standing right outside in the hallway. The girl who was about to be discovered eavesdropping on his conversation. The girl who had a long-standing, rocky re-hate-tionship with one of the said participants of said conversation.
My brain kicked in at the last minute. Retreat, retreat! It was screaming, but it was already too late. Just as I started to back away further into the darkness of the hallway, there was the sound of two chairs scraping back and ominous footsteps.
Mr. Potter rounded the corner and almost right into me. He startled, stopping in his tracks, jerking backwards in surprise. Oops. Potter, who was standing behind him in the doorway, stopped too, raising his eyebrows and leaning against the kitchen table in a manner that said, ‘This ought to be good.’
“Hi,” Mr. Potter blurted out, obviously rattled at my genie-like appearance into his doorway.
I took in a deep breath, trying to appear as ignorant and blithe as possible, as if I’d just had the most amazing time chatting up reporters and signing book deals and not hearing every word of the almost blowout fight he and his son had been having.
At ease. I was one-hundred-percent at ease.
“Hello!” I practically sang. I sounded like a possessed Care Bear.
“Agatha.” Mr. Potter cleared his throat and adjusted his already saggy tie, hastily putting on a rather unconvincing smile. “Good to see you. We are so sorry for the paparazzi problem — ”
“Why?” I cocked my head in what I hoped to be sincere confusion as I breezed past him, through the doorway and into the brightly lit kitchen. I needed some water, stat. My throat was getting dry with nerves, plus I needed something to occupy my mouth before I started rambling (and no, Potter’s lips was not a valid suggestion). “I mean, it was totally my fault.”
“You can say that again,” Potter drawled out just low enough for me to hear as I passed him. My hip rammed into the table he was leaning against as I flinched.
Apparently, Potter hadn’t been quiet enough though, because his dad whipped around and shot him a glare that, had it been in my direction, would have shriveled up all my internal organs.
“No, seriously.” Potter was unfazed, his voice icy. “I’d actually like her to say it again. Just let me get my tape recorder this tiem.” He rocked forward onto his feet in a smooth, effortless motion, stepping away from the table and closer to me. His face was filled with mock surprise, voice low and derisive. “This might be the first time in history that Agatha Bennett has ever admitted to something being her fault.”
“That is enough,” Mr. Potter slashed through, sending me an apologetic look. “Agatha, I’m so sorry — ”
“No, um, it’s okay. It is totally my fault.” I nodded, tucking the hair behind my ear. I tried to muster up a reassuring smile, but it probably just came across as a pained grimace, like the face Dom makes when she tries to floss (trust me, it’s not pretty).
I grabbed a glass off the smooth marble counter and filled it with water from the Potters' state-of-the-art sink that, incidentally, had about as many different settings as a Jacuzzi. I was determined not to say anything snarky, so I gulped the water down ferociously to prevent myself from opening my mouth and spitting out a nasty reply.
Mr. Potter shook his head, obviously sensing the tension between me and his son. “Well, if you and your brother are safe inside the house, that’s all that matters. I’m going to check on Lily. Will one of you turn out the lights when you come upstairs?”
Neither of us said anything. Potter continued to look at me with that annoying, scrutinizing stare. I finished off the last of the water and poured in some more.
Shrugging, Mr. Potter turned and walked out, leaving the two of us in pounding silence.
I glanced out the window as I sipped, determined not to talk or even acknowledge Potter's presence, and equally as determined not to leave. Just because Potter was here didn’t mean I couldn’t be as well. This was my kitchen too. Or it was, at least, for the next five days.
So I was staying put.
The two of us seemed to both be thinking the same thing: that this was another unspoken challenge, a turf war. Neither of us wanted to back down, to retreat into some other corner of the house. It was me against Potter, like always. And this time, the stakes were pride... And fridge access.
You don’t mess with the fridge access.
I swallowed hard, still watching the sky. It was late — or rather, early — and in about five hours, the sun would rise for kids all over England to get up, run downstairs and unwrap their Christmas presents.
But it didn’t feel like Christmas. Not when I had to spend the day with someone who seemed to carry a reservoir of hatred and snarky comments for me. Honestly, if there was one Christmas present I’d want, it’d be Potter gone. But I doubted Santa ever did kidnapping requests, so.
I turned around, away from the sink, to look at Potter. He was sitting on the table now and looking completely unbothered, as if my presence wasn’t distracting... Or, really, even noticeable. He was staring at the window, too. The moonlight made his features sharper than usual — the sculpted planes of his face, the tilt of his lips, the simmering gold in his eyes.
Pretty boys. They’ll be your death, let me tell you.
“It’s Christmas tomorrow,” I blurted out ridiculously, randomly. As if he didn’t know, as if he weren’t capable of reading a calendar. I clutched the glass in my hand, half-wary and half-curious to see what he’d say. “Actually, it’s Christmas right now.”
Potter swung his gaze to me, coolly cocking an eyebrow. I shrunk back, berating myself for having even spoken. I could tell by the spark in his eye that I’d awoken the dragon, and now I would have to deal with the burn.
With an agile thud, Potter jumped to the ground and ambled a few steps forward, head cocked in mock-consideration. “Very good, Bennett. And the sky is blue. And grass is green,” He said, in the same tone a kindergarten teacher might use on one of his slower pupils. “Now tell me, what number comes after four?”
Gee, I don’t know. How ‘bout you count it out on my fist as it flies towards your face? I wanted to spit back. Or, even better — physically demonstrate.
Instead, I just smiled politely, feeling my insides crackle with frustration as I turned around and rinsed my glass in the sink. “Just trying to make conversation,” I said softly.
“Conversation?” Potter laughed darkly. I watched as the water from the tap overflowed into my glass, trying not to wince. “Since when do we have conversations?”
He had a point.
I snapped off the tap and slammed the glass forcefully onto the counter, feeling the anger pulse erratically inside my chest. I turned around to see Potter’s eyebrows raised innocently, his hands in his pockets. He was watching me patiently, knowing I was this close to blowing up.
“You know what, Potter?”
“What, Bennett?” He replied calmly as he quickly stepped forward. He was egging me on, wrapping me up in my own hysteria and sitting back to watch as I unraveled in front of him — and I knew it. He knew it. We both knew it.
I took a breath.
His eyes, crackling with amber electricity, met mine. We were only a foot apart.
He was waiting.
“Nothing,” I muttered, looking down as the heat pooled into my cheeks. Was there any salt aroundt? Sugar? Water? Something to make my pride go down a little easier while I swallowed it? “Nothing. I’m just... I’m just going to head to bed. Goodnight.”
I stepped forward, but Potter sidestepped right and smoothly blocked my path.
“Now we both know that’s not it, Bennett,” There was a tempting glint in his eyes, his voice dark and alluring. It was almost as if he wanted me to blow up at him.
“No,” I mumbled, unable to look at him. The anger inside me had dimmed, and now all that was left was a pulsing emptiness. “That's very it. Now can I please get past?”
I could feel Potter's gaze roaming my face, scrutinizing me for any sign of weakness. I held my breath, not daring to make a sound, and the dark kitchen was quiet for a moment as Potter stared and stared and stared.
Then, he shook his head and stepped aside. “Fine,” he said with that same stinging brand of skepticism he had always reserved just for me.
I brushed past him, determined not to show how hard I was shaking. Anger was thrashing in my chest, but there was also something else — a hollow pit in my stomach that hurt and told me sleep would be impossible tonight.
“Goodnight.” My whisper was barely audible. Potter didn’t respond, crossing his arms, strange gaze never leaving me.
I ran out of the room like my life depended on it.
“Oh, come on. It’s not that bad.”
Freddy Weasley squinted his light eyes at the newspaper in his hand, and I scoffed where I stood by the window, vision tinged golden in the morning sunlight, face betraying the full magnitude of my incredulity.
“Not that bad?'" I echoed Fred's words, voice taut with anxiety. "Freddy, that’s like saying Voldemort is just a nice guy 'once you get to know him!’ This picture is a disaster — I look like a naked mole rat in it!"
Freddy gave an adamant shake of the head, but his face betrayed the truth. His expression was like that of a hernia patient in deep pain. “No, honest. You don't look like a naked mole rat at all. You look completely, 100-percent human. Well. 90-percent. 85. The point is, you look fine."
I knew better, though. Freddy always made the same face when he tried to lie — a funny frown that puckered his forehead, accompanied by a nose-wrinkle that gave the impression of someone who desperately had to sneeze, but couldn't. The expression was a quirk of his and, after years of recognizing it, a dead give-away.
“And you, my friend, look completely constipated.” Snatching the newspaper away and ignoring the ensuing offended gasp, I stalked over to the trash can, breathing harshly in frustration.
Dom’s chair, which had been leaning precariously backwards, slammed forward onto its two front legs. “No, seriously Aggy!” My best friend protested, tendrils of curly hair trembling as she shook her head. “Freddy’s right! You look totally human!” She paused. “Well. More or less. Maybe with some goblin blood mixed in there...“
I gave an aggravated scream, chucking the newspaper into the rubbish bin with enough force to shift the earth on its axis by a couple degrees. This. Was. So. Unfair.
The three of us were in the Potters' kitchen, which — now that it was morning and everything was filled with warm sunlight and the smell of cinnamon rolls — seemed completely different from the shadowy lair where Potter and I had held our little Fridge Access Showdown last night. Fred and Dom had come over for Christmas, bringing with them a mountain of presents and some bad news for me — and I mean that in the most literal sense.
Because The Daily Prophet had just printed a cover story. About me. The headline?
‘THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE SWORD – WHO IS SHE?"
Honestly, I hadn’t even bothered to read it. I’d been a little too busy staring at the absolutely horrendous picture of me they'd planted right in the middle of the page.
It had obviously been taken last night, when we were ambushed by the paparazzi. Not only was the photo in black and white (never flattering), but in it, my face looked completely pale due to the flash. Draco-Malfoy-pale, in fact. My eyes were closed, my mouth gaping open in a flattering, ‘Oh hey, check out this view of my tonsils!’ kind of way, and my hair pulled back so that, because of the trick of light, I appeared bald.
“Hey, cheer up, Aggs. Honest to Merlin, you look fine,” Freddy soothed, ever the optimistic one. "The picture is, er, refreshing! It’s a good change from all those fake, air-brushed supermodels you see in newspapers these days."
I whipped around, tone scathing. “Oh, yes, thank you for that, Freddy. Because my top concern was that I looked too much like a supermodel. Isn’t that what every girl worries about these days?”
“I’m serious. You look good!” Fred just didn’t know when to stop. I narrowed my eyes at him, and his face quickly fell.
“I mean, n-no! You don’t!” He hastily amended. “You look horrible! Hideous even! Only thing worse-looking than that photo is the masticated breakfast I barf up after seeing it!”
Now it was Dom’s turn to give him the stink-eye. Freddy looked between the two of us, obviously panicked, floundering spectacularly among the finer nuances of this conversation in a way typical of his species: tactless teenage boy.
“Have either of you lost weight, by any chance?”
“Just stop. Please. For your own good, Freddy,” Dom said helpfully. She rolled her eyes from where she was kicking back in her wooden chair, decked out in a sloppy bun and one of Potter’s Quidditch hoodies.
...Not that I, you know, kept track of his hoodies or anything. I just saw the name on the back. That was all. And under no circumstances did my heart skip a beat when I saw those letter printed in bold red. Nope. And under no circumstances did I immediately conceive a mental image of that name's owner, shirtless on a broomstick and dripping in Nutella. Not at all. Because that would be weird! Anyway.
“Where are Potter and Aidan?”
“Sleeping,” I responded automatically to Dom's question, checking my watch as I spoke. It was quarter to two. Teenaged boys and their REM cycles, they never ceased to amaze me.
“How are you guys?” Freddy murmured. His voice was light and easy, but I couldn’t resist the scowl crawling onto my face nevertheless.
“Who? Me and Potter? Never better,” I said casually, though as much as I tried to seem nonchalant, I was, in fact, very chalant. Very chalant indeed. “I told him off at his birthday party, so yesterday it was his turn to yell at me. Now we’re even.”
“Really? Are you serious?” Freddy moaned, looking up from the table to exchange a pained glance with Dom.
“I am. What of it?” I demanded, irritated by their obnoxious cousin telepathy and the invisible beam of communication that seemed to zip between the two.
Dom sighed, lips pursed. “Nothing. It's just — why can’t you two get along?”
I shrugged casually, pouring myself a cup of tea from the kettle. “Oh, I don’t know... Something about my rampant narcissism and the way I always have to be the one to save the day. His words, not mine.”
“Do you know how frustrating it is for us to watch you guys fight?” Freddy whined, puppy dog eyes big and pleading.
I took an unfazed sip of tea. “Well. Take it up with Potter. He’s the one saying he’s ‘done with me.’”
Dom rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t mean that, Aggy. Dude, you should have seen him at the Ministry. You scared the living hell out of him. He sprinted to get to you, after you were almost hit with... You know, the curse. He carried you all the way outside, wouldn’t let anyone touch you until he found a Healer. Then he almost beat the shit out of Draco Malfoy for saying you’d have to wait to be treated like everyone else. Grabbed him by the shirt and everything.”
Fred snorted, mumbling something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like ‘Lousy albino ferret.’
Nodding sagely, Dom continued on, “Malfoy took one look at James’s face and quickly changed his mind. The kid’s pretty intimidating when he wants to be.”
I scowled. “Look, that's nice and all, but it doesn’t change the fact that after I woke up from all of this, Potter proceeded to play wrecking ball with my self-esteem. The things he said were... Totally uncalled for.”
Dom and Fred were silent, exchanging another one of their Cousin Telepathy Looks that I adored oh-so-much.
“Aggy,” Dom began hesitantly. “You’re my best friend — of course I’m on your side. But just keep in mind that you’re not completely faultless either.”
She paused, as if waiting for me to interrupt and batter her with protests. And, you know what? Maybe a week ago I would have. But now it was different. I was different. Whereas any other time, I might have ignored the sinking feeling in my chest that told me Dom was right, now I simply accepted it. I had punched the kid in the face, after all. That didn’t exactly earn me a Miss Congeniality sash.
Could this be what... What maturity felt like?
“I know, okay?” I finally responded. “I haven’t been on the best behavior either. But still, I do find it a little suspicious that the only time Potter’s ever being nice to me is when I’m ‘conveniently’ unconscious and — oh will you two just stop it with the looks already?”
Freddy and Dom broke off their wordless communication, turning towards me with identical creepy grins that brought to mind clown facepaint and blood-stained machetes. I stared blankly.
“What?” I asked, annoyed.
Fred just slowly shook his head, wiping a fake, invisible tear from his eye and clasping his hands over his heart with standing-ovation-worthy melodrama. “Oh my lord, Mama, would you just have a looksee at that?” he cried in an (extremely poor) imitation of an American southern belle.
“Our little Aggy has done and gone all grown up! Heavens me!” Dom cried. This was accompanied by some fake swooning and fainting that I did not appreciate.
“My oh my!”
“Har har," I deadpanned. "Very funny. Just so you know, Freddy, I’m now imagining you in a ballgown and matching parasol.”
“Well butter me on both sides and call me a biscuit!”
“I do declare!”
“It’s pink, by the way. The parasol is pink.”
“I’m so proud of our little lass!”
“Such a wee one, she was!”
“Okay, now you’re phasing into Scottish accents." I hastily crossed my arms over my chest, lips pursing in consternation. "At least get your stereotypes right!" Honestly, what next?
“Crikey mate!” And on cue, in burst my brother with the Mock Crocodile Hunter Impression, completely disheveled and still wearing his pajamas. "It's a good morning in the outback today!"
...And this would be the moment where I interject in typical Aggy-fashion with something along the lines of, "I need new friends," or "I’m surrounded by loonies."
But not today. Nope. Because I was mature.
Besides, friends you could try to avoid, but you couldn't really change family. That shit stayed in your gene pool. Forever.
Aidan sauntered in, snatching the mug out of my hands as he breezed past ("Oh, tea! Thanks, sis.") and collapsed onto a nearby chair. In a quick swig, he had downed the drink with a series of loud, disgusting glugging noises. We all watched him finish it in silent approval (Freddy) and repulsion (Dom and I).
“So,” Aidan said when he was finished, wiping his mouth as he slammed the mug on the table. “What were you guys talking about?”
“Er...” For a moment, I panicked. I doubted Aidan would be thrilled to hear that the most pressing topic of conversation involving me right now also involved a certain black-haired Gryffindor.
“The Potters!” I said cheerily. When lying, it was always wise not to go too far from the truth. In my case, I made what was singular, plural. Which meant my fib wasn't that immoral, really. I mean, there had to be some leeway in that ‘thou shalt not lie’ thing, right?
“Really?” Aidan’s eyebrows shot up. He dumped his feet on the table and leaned back, frowning in a detached kind of interest.
“Yeah!” Dom said with chipperness deserving of a Cover Girl commercial as she caught on to my lead. Fred coughed, looking once more like he was sneeze-constipated. Sneezetipated. “We were just talking about how amazing Mr. Potter was at the Ministry last night.”
Aidan nodded, expression softening with understanding. “He really was. Thank Merlin he came in when he did. I don’t even want to think about what would’ve happened if he hadn’t.”
“Seriously,” Fred agreed. “What is it with you Bennetts and your near-death experiences? Is it like a family tradition or something?”
I shrugged. I knew that given what happened last night, any other person would be having enlightening epiphanies and existential revelations about the shared human experience. I mean, I had just barely escaped death — I should be shaving my head and moving to India right now. If my life were a romantic comedy, this would be the part where everything turns around, I quit the deadbeat accounting job and confess my love to the dream-guy in a rainy street or crowded airport terminal.
But in reality... I didn’t feel much different. Sure, I was suddenly a lot more appreciative of a working heartbeat than before, but the whole night at the Ministry had felt so surreal that I couldn't think about it without feeling like my head was about to explode. I was just glad to be alive.
“Uncle Harry is so badass,” Dom murmured fondly, drawing me out of my musings. "He just always seems to know what to do."
I looked up, curiosity peaking. “This is a random question, but does he get along with Albus?” I just wanted to know. After all, I knew how Potter felt about his dad, but for some reason, the subject of his little brother had never been brought up before. I wondered if Albus shared in his brother's apparent knack for dismissing any and all of Mr. Potter's claims to authority.
“Uncle Harry?” Fred stared at me momentarily, and then shrugged. “Well, he tries to. I mean, it’s hard, you know, since he’s a little busy. People to see, worlds to save and all that.”
I nodded, head cocked to the side as I mulled this over. Fred's answer made sense now that I thought about it. After all, the wizarding world held Mr. Potter in high esteem, but it also demanded a lot from him — protection; security; morale boosts; consultations with international governments; speeches and appearances at ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings charity galas — I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to be responsible for not just my own family, but an entire society as well. No wonder Mr. Potter was so busy. Apparently, he had already left home to assemble and direct the Auror team that would be in charge of tracking down the escaped Death Eaters from the ball.
And I thought Fifth Year and the OWLs were exhausting.
“What’s Albus like?" I changed the subject, inspecting my nails as I spoke. There was something about the famed Potter family that really fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. "I’ve never really talked to the kid.”
“He’s cool. Good at Quidditch.” And of course Freddy used sports-playing as a person’s main qualifier. He could be describing Albus Dumbledore and, out of all the things to choose, simply say, ‘Oh you know. He’s a pretty good Keeper. A little clumsy with a Beater’s Bat, though.’
“Yeah,” Dom affirmed affectionately. “After James graduates, Al's probably going to become Quidditch Captain.”
“As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid like, I don’t know, assign a girl the Seeker’s spot and then fall madly in love with her,” Freddy threw in.
Dom snorted. “But that would just be unfeasible.”
On that note, the kitchen door swung open and in waltzed Potter, wearing a faded T-shirt (there should be a rule about the thinness of a boy’s shirt material in correlation to the drool-worthiness of his back muscles, seriously) and his hair a tousled mess.
For a moment, there was a jerky silence as Potter and I locked eyes and my stomach plummeted to my feet, in turn serving as a cushy landing pad for my heart, which quickly followed on its own suicidal dive.
Potter’s eyes were bright gold, his face strangely serious. We stood, unmoving for a second, completely held in place by the searing gaze between us.
And then — and then Potter’s lips lifted in a tiny, devastating smirk, and he walked right past me like I didn’t exist, like that moment, that whatever you call it between us hadn’t even happened.
“Wotcher,” he tossed over his shoulder to Dom and Fred as he casually made his way to the fridge, grabbing the milk carton and taking a swig. Oh my god, his voice was all thick with sleep and... and sexy.
Did boys not realize how sexy their sleepy voices were? It was so unfair that the male gender had this weapon to use against us. I mean, I knew we girls would always have boobs, but still. Foul play.
I cleared my throat. Was it getting hot in here?
“I should probably go,” I began slowly. Potter turned to look at me, eyebrows quirked, and my face flushed instantly.
“Oh, of course. Autographs to sign, newborn babies to kiss. We understand,” Potter drawled casually, sticking the milk back into the fridge. There was no outright nastiness in his voice — to Aidan and the others, it probably sounded like just another one of the jabs we constantly lobbed at each other.
But to me, there was a different meaning.
Damn it all.
“On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay,” I smiled sweetly, before stalking over and plopping down on a chair next to a confused Dom. Slamming my feet on the table, I wiggled into my seat and got comfortable.
Potter’s mouth quirked downwards in irritation.
“Sooooo,” Fred drew out slowly, looking between me and Potter with wariness pinching at his forehead, and the room went suddenly silent. I’d say you could cut the tension with a knife, but I was pretty sure a chainsaw was actually more in order. “What now?”
Dom suddenly clapped her hands, the noise cracking through the agitated atmosphere like a lightning bolt. “Presents!” She exclaimed brightly, in an obvious attempt to dispel the edginess that had settled over us like a musty blanket. “It's Christmas! We should do presents!”
There was a unanimous groan from around the table as everyone slumped in their chairs, the tension now fully dissolved only to be replaced with a heavy cloak of dread. Dom was notorious for her love of Christmas. Presents and plum fairies, wrapping paper and carols — she was crazy about it all, even the bloody chestnuts roasting on the bloody open fire. And the rest of us could not, for the love of Merlin, understand why. After five years of returns, re-gifts, and wrong sizes, we’d all pretty much accepted the fact that we were crap present-givers and that Christmas among the group was usually an underwhelming failure. I mean, last year, Freddy had given me a cotton swab. A cotton swab
It had already been used.
“Aw, Dom," Aidan groaned, jiggling his knee up and down under the table. His face was drawn into a melodramatic expression fit for a Mexican soap opera-style close-up. "Do we really have to do this right now?”
“Yes, we do," Dom said primly as she straightened in her chair, folding her hands daintily on the table with all the propriety of a 50s' housewife. "It’s Christmas! Christmas equals presents!”
“You know, Dom, it's really great you don't let this whole 'Jesus dying for our sins' thing get in the way of the holiday's true spirit," Potter said drily.
“I SAID PRESENTS!" Dom tossed a — duly ignored — dirty glare in Potter's direction and thrust her finger out towards Fred, who was nearest to the door to the living room, where all the gifts were stashed. "GET THEM!”
Fred grimaced at his cousin. "Aw, come on, Dommy. It’s too early for this!”
"Fred, get the presents."
"Please don't make me."
“Fred lazy. No move.”
“GET THE PRESENTS OR SO HELP ME I WILL — ”
“Fine, fine, I’ll go in a sec — Ow! Ow! Okay, I’m going right now, just stop hitting me! MERLIN.”
There was immediately a great kafuffle as everyone sorted out their presents and tried to avoid getting mauled by Dom and her rabid Christmas spirit extremism. We then gathered around the table, dumping the different shaped and colored boxes into a clunky mini-mountain in the center, and got to work unwrapping.
Overall, it was a surprisingly decent haul. As per tradition, Dom passed out the gifts, Freddy helped by sticking all the bows onto his forehead, and everyone pretended to not be secretly keeping the receipts to all their gifts so that they could later exchange whatever they received for the proper size/store credit/something actually useful.
This year, though, was actually better than most. Dom got me a Witch Weekly hairstyling kit, Aidan gave me a necklace with a dainty, golden quill charm, and Freddy gave me a giftcard from Wizards Wheezes that, in all reality, would probably end up either unused or sitting inside Aidan's wallet.
Though I'd have to say Freddy's real Christmas present to me was when he asked if the "really dope-ass blender" he had ordered from a TV infomercial would be a good idea for Evelyn's Christmas present, and I had the indescribable pleasure of telling him that yes, getting your two-month-long, high maintenance, Slytherin girlfriend a blender for your first Christmas together was, indeed, a great idea.
Hey — just because I was mature now didn't mean I couldn't have some fun every once in a while.
Dom, it turned out, had a few surprises of her own: the first was the ski trip her family had organized, for which she would be leaving tomorrow to spend time with Fleurzilla and the rest of her fam in "the motherfucking Alps or Alaska or some other Yeti habitat shit" (her words, not mine).
The second was another present: five golden disks, each about the size of my palm, that had the shape and color of bloated coins. Every "coin" had a shiny mirror that could be used to communicate to any person in possession of one of the remainder coins. Apparently, Dom had gotten the idea from her Aunt Hermione, who had done something similar in the good ole' DA days.
Basically, all you had to do was look into the mirror and say the name of anyone in the group, and voila, instant access to that person's face.
"So, yeah," Dom rambled sheepishly, pretty face turning red. "I know it's a little corny, but this way we can talk to each other at all times. Just carry them around in your pocket and you're all set."
With that, she set the coins on the table.
"You charmed these yourselves?" Aidan squinted wondrously, his inner prankster obviously impressed.
Dom flushed a deeper shade of red than I had previously thought possible. "I mean, yeah, it's no big deal though, it was just a simple spell — "
"No," I said with utmost seriousness, my Supportive Best Friend instincts taking effect. "Dude, this is brilliant. It takes some really complex magic."
I reached across to grab one, but unfortunately, Potter apparently had the same idea. In one of those horribly cliché, PG-13 movie moments, our fingers brushed. The ensuing jolt up my arm must have consisted of enough voltage to power the city of Singapore.
I looked up, too surprised to rearrange the expression on my face, and met Potter's eyes. There was a flash of deeper emotion in his gaze — whether it was anger or desire or something else, I couldn't tell; everything around us just seemed to halt in time. Unable to hold this strange, heavy connection, I flicked by gaze to the table and focused on the surface's extremely interesting wood pattern instead. Luckily, no one noticed our weird Press Pause moment.
Neither had they noticed the blatant lack of cheery gift giving going on between Potter and me. Granted, all our other presents from past years had been cheap, last minute efforts in a pseudo-contest to see who could care the least (one year, Potter gave me scissors; the next year, I gave him a rock). But this was the first time when we hadn't bought anything for each other. It was weird.
I took a deep, shuddering breath, only to look up and see that Potter was still staring at me, unabashedly, his mouth a firm, unhappy line.
"Don't you agree, Aggy? Aggy?" Dom's voice yanked me from my thoughts, and I startled.
"Huh?" I croaked attractively. Dom exchanged a pointed look with Fred, who she'd been chatting with, and sighed.
"Don't you agree that it's so great James is taking Aidan and Fred to the concert?" For Christmas, Potter had given Aidan and Fred the classic gift of teenage delinquency: three tickets to some New Years Eve rock concert they'd all been wanting to go to and, with that, the opportunity to get White Girl Wasted and party their already-severely-limited brains out.
Not that I was bitter, or anything. Nope. I wasn't going to try and control what any of them did. Especially not Aidan.
Because I was mature.
I looked at Potter. The side of his mouth had quirked upwards in a sardonic, knowing manner, like he was just waiting for me to go ahead and say something annoying and mum-ish. The smugness in his gaze was intolerable.
I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.
"Yeah," I mumbled at Dom's general direction as I stared into the grainy surface of the table. "Sounds like you guys'll have fun."
There was a subdued silence from the boys. I didn't know what they'd been expecting, but it obviously wasn't my (albeit unenthusiastic) compliance. Dom babbled on.
"Totally. I'm so jealous, I wish I could go too — and oh no, Agatha!"
My head jerked up, neck cricking painfully with the motion. "What?"
"I just realized — I'm going to be in the Alps and the boys are going to be at the concert and, oh, you're going to be alone for New Years!"
I blinked. "Oh."
Aidan's brow collapsed, and Fred took on a faintly guilty expression on his face. "Well, Potter only has three tickets — " Fred began, but was hastily elbowed in the ribs by Dom. "Ow! I mean, uh, we don't have to go to the concert if you don't want us to, Aggs. We could stay. We'd secretly resent you for it until the end of time, but still. Just say the word."
Aidan, however, was a little more sincere, leveling me with a frank, serious look. "Aggy," he said slowly, "I can stay here with you, and Freddy and James can go to the concert. Seriously. It's no big deal."
I stared into my brother's concerned eyes, somewhat astonished at how sweet and thoughtful he was acting. And then I swiveled my gaze towards Potter.
His smirk was a challenge. Prove me right, it said.
"No," I said quietly, shaking my head in defiant sweeps. "It's fine. Go to the concert. I'll just camp out here at the house. I've never liked New Years anyways — it's so much hype about nothing."
A tiny crease seemed to dig itself between Potter's eyebrows — the slightest frown — but then he looked away, and it was gone before I even truly noticed it.
"Are you sure? No one should spend New Years alone." The pitying tone in Dom's voice was the worst. I gritted my teeth and tried not to grimace.
"Really, I don't mind. Honest."
The self-assured smirk was back on Potter's face, all traces of uncertainty gone so fast I thought I’d imagined everything. His chin was cocked arrogantly, his voice thick and mocking. "Of course. She probably has better things to do than hang out with us lowlifes. The concert's not really her style, anyway. Next time the Italian Opera is in town, Bennett, I'll be sure to buy tickets for all of us."
Aidan shot him a warning look, but I could see the tinge of amusement mingling in his expression.
My teeth were grinding so hard together, I was pretty sure I could taste the faint hint of enamel dust. I was irritated by the way Potter was speaking about me, as if I wasn't even in the room. "For your information, I happen to enjoy rock concerts."
Potter snorted. "Disney On Ice doesn't count as a rock concert, Bennett."
At this, Freddy barked a laugh. I looked at Dom for some back-up, but she just shrugged sympathetically.
High road, Aggy, take the high road. "Well, I'm sure you guys will have fun." I stretched my mouth in what I hoped was a smile, but in all probability just looked like the angry snarl of an animal trying to protect its young.
"Oh, we will. Without you." That stupid Cheshire smirk on Potter's face wouldn't budge. He just loved to watch me lose, the prat.
Before anyone could respond, however, the sharp shrill of someone's ringtone pierced the air. Immediately, all five of us pulled out our equally battered, equally outdated flip phones to check.
The call was for Freddy.
"Wotcher. Oh hey, mum! Yes, I'm at Jimmy's... Leave? Now? Aw, but it's cold as tits outside...." Grimacing, Freddy jerked the phone farther away from his ear as the voice on the other end suddenly grew louder (and angrier). "Okay, okay, I'm going. See you in a few. And hey, did you get the note I left?... Yeah, I just wanted you to go to the store and pick up my night light — I MEAN NIFFLER. NIFFLER. PICK UP MY NIFFLER. THAT'S WHAT I MEANT. I DON'T USE A NIGHT-LIGHT WHAT THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS OKAY BYE."
Freddy snapped the phone shut, his face turning a lovely mauve shade as the rest of us burst into peals of laughter, the tension from before momentarily forgotten.
"You," he shot at Dom, who was currently collapsed, hooting with mirth, over the shaking shoulders of a chuckling Potter. "Are coming with me, cousin. And stop laughing! I could list plenty of embarrassing incidents involving you!"
"Oh y-yeah! L-like w-what?" Dom managed to get out in between hiccups.
"The chicken nugget incident of 2017 ring a bell?"
Dom's laughter immediately died, her eyes turning comically wide as she snapped her mouth shut. She stood up quickly, chair screeching back, and grabbed her coat off the counter. "Yeah, let's go."
And then she forcibly dragged Fred through the door and out the house before any of us could ask her to explain.
Aidan looked between me and Potter, confused. "Chicken nugget...?"
I shrugged. Potter shook his head solemnly, smirk gone. "Trust me, mate, you don't want to know."
After Christmas, the rest of our time at The Potter Mansion seemed to pass uneventfully — except for the strange caveat that Aidan and I’s relationship seemed to have experienced a weird, Freaky Friday-like role reversal ever since the Ministry incident. Now he was the fierce protector, the fretful comforter. My brush with death must have awakened all his overprotective brother instincts. It was my turn to go to him on the nights when I couldn't sleep, when I’d wake up from nightmares of hysterical screams and green flashes.
Those nights, I would stumble to Aidan's room, unable to take being alone in the dark anymore, and shake my brother awake. Obliging as always, he’d croak something cranky and then grudgingly budge over so that I could slide under the covers next to him. After some whispered bickering over pillow space and who was being the blanket hog, we’d finally fall asleep again.
That was the only way I could actually wake up in the morning feeling somewhat refreshed, with at least a couple hours of sleep under my belt.
Though thanks to the labyrinthine layout of the Potter mansion's hallways, as well as my tendency to knock over things on my way to Aidan's room and yell out words that weren't exactly SAT vocabulary, my nighttime mattress-hopping habits had become common knowledge around the household.
Fortunately, Potter never said anything during the day, even after one slightly uncomfortable incident when, disoriented and shin throbbing from a not-so-pleasant rendezvous with the bathroom door, I had ended up in his room instead. In my defense, the different doors of the Potter household can look similar when distorted by the dark and a nightmare-induced adrenaline buzz... And it’s easy to get mixed up on which room’s which.
Especially at night, when you look inside and all you can really see is a lump in a bed. And by the time you’re crawling into that bed and realizing that this lump has tousled black hair, not toffee brown — well by then it’s too late and already the two of you are screaming bloody murder and flying away from each other at inhuman speeds (“WHAT THE FUCK BENNETT?” “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” “I’M SORRY YOUR HOUSE IS LIKE FUCKING PAN’S LABYRINTH JESUS!”)
And so on and so forth.
Yeah. That had been a fun morning.
Anyways, with the exception of bedroom mix-ups, life seemed to be heading in the vague direction of 'normal.' Or as normal as possible, at least, when your last name’s Bennett. Reporters still hounded the doors whenever one of us left the house, but their numbers were decreasing. I knew Aidan and Mrs. Potter were hiding all the newspapers and magazines that came to the house — for my benefit, so I wouldn’t have to read the articles slandering me and my virtue, or whatever (all written by a Mrs. Skeeter, no doubt) — but I tried not to let that bother me.
Mrs. Potter was very nice about the whole thing, offering me words of comfort in passing.
“Don’t worry about them, Aggy," she said one night as we set the table for dinner. "Those low-life paparazzi — they’re just losers. All the men still live with their mothers, and all the women date the men who still live with their mothers. You have no one to be scared of.”
“I know," I grimaced, meeting Ginny's eyes over the porcelain Jenga tower of plates I was carrying. "It just bugs me that others are reading this stuff about me. My relatives. My friends. My professors.”
Ginny sighed, tweaking a fork so it rested perfectly straight on the table. She was still frail-looking from the Ministry, but the color was back in her cheeks and she was as vibrant as ever. “If it helps, I've read all of the articles and none are really that bad. A lot of newspapers are too busy labeling you as a hero to bother with stupid gossip. It’s only Witch Weekly that’s out for you, really. And they’re just stupid, catty bitches who are bothered by the fact that you’re younger and more famous than any of them. Especially the fact that you're younger. That’s the worst sin, in their minds, that you’re bursting with youth and fertility, or whatever, and they’re all wrinkly and saggy-boobed.”
That one actually made me laugh out loud. Ginny smiled, but it was an absent smile, and she seemed pensive as she flicked her gaze to the kitchen window. The very same window Potter had looked out of, his face intent and focused and unfairly attractive in the gilded moonlight, that night we got home from the Ministry.
It was always weird to watch Potter interact with his family — the way he bickered good-naturedly with Lily and Ginny, how he never let them do any work or chores if he could help it, always gallantly swooping in last minute with a helping hand to grab the trash, the dirty dishes, the laundry basket...
He treated them the opposite he treated me — all the wit without the scathing, all the chivalry without the reluctance. It hurt to watch.
“Agatha?” Ginny sighed, brown eyes still trained on the window pane.
“Have you been sleeping well?”
I froze. Potter and I’s little midnight... mistaken identity crisis, shall we call it, had happened only a couple days ago. I didn't think Ginny would be angry if she heard about the incident (in fact, I was pretty sure she’d find the fact that her son and I had almost shared a bed hilarious), but still. It wasn't something I wanted people knowing about. “Yes, of course. Why?”
“Well, it’s just that Lily... She’s on your guys’ floors and she’s mentioned that you tend to, er, talk in your sleep.”
There was a pause in which I felt both relieved and horrified at the same time. On one hand, I was glad Ginny didn’t know I had tried to sleep with her son (er, bad word choice). On the other, I knew what Ginny was implying in her remark, and I didn't like it.
My dreams tended to be graphic and violent, and 'talk' didn't just cover what I'd been doing in my sleep — more than once, I had woken up screaming, howling, kicking and shrieking. There was no doubt about it. I’d been making noises in my sleep because of my nightmares, and the rest of the house was starting to take notice.
I stood in humiliated silence, my cheeks burning as I absentmindedly ladled tomato soup into a bowl. I wondered if Ginny knew the full extent of everything that went on behind closed doors in this house.
Almost as if she was reading my mind, Ginny flicked her long red hair over her shoulder and said, quietly: “It bothers James, too.”
“What? He’s heard me?” I blurted, mortified.
“No, no,” Ginny said hastily, understanding my embarrassment. “But Lily mentioned it a while ago in front of him, and he looked upset."
My heart was beating fast. It was disturbing to find out that I was a regular topic of conversation when the Potter family got together. “Well, er, he hasn’t been upset enough to mention anything to me.”
Ginny nodded. “Understood,” she said neutrally, and that was that.
And so the rest of Christmas break passed in a blur. After a couple nights of rest, Mrs. Potter was up on her feet and being her usual boss self again. Lily, who had taken the news of what happened at the Ministry (plus the fact that there was a new celebrity in the house) with just the calm raise of a single penciled eyebrow, managed to maintain an attitude of blasé nonchalance only a teenaged girl could feign.
Of course, I didn’t really see Mr. Potter that much after his special cameo at the Ministry — he was now busy trying to catch the guys who’d attempted to kill me, natch.
Ignoring the fact that I was now on the cover of every newspaper in wizarding Britain, things had gone back to normal.
And yet, I couldn't help but count down the days until we were back at Hogwarts.
Until I could board the Express and throw myself back into the comforting boredom of classes, homework and Prefect duties, I knew I wouldn't be able to feel completely at peace.
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