Here’s the thing about telling someone that you’re ‘done’ with them, that you never want to see or talk 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 the backseat of 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 tried to keep myself from screaming bloody murder. Lord knows it wouldn’t exactly be beneficial to my public image—which, I have learned, tends to suffer a bit 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’ve been declared ‘slightly unhinged, with a self-destructive attitude and a warped sense of priorities.’ Which, in fancy psychoanalyst language, basically means I have 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, means I’m off my rocker.
Aidan evidently seemed to agree. He was currently sitting on my other side, his shoulders and neck hunched under the low roof of the car, and he kept on shooting me these shifty glances. Like 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 areshole.
Then again, those shifty glances might not be due to my ‘self-destructive attitude’ (because let’s face it, the bloke’s known me for fifteen years. Surely he’s caught on to 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, is 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 his 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 from 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. La dee da. Death Eaters, wandfire, destruction, explosions. Just another day in the life of Harry Potter. “Make sure you stay hydrated. You exerted yourself a lot tonight. You need rest.”
From next to him, a drowsy Ginny Potter frowned. “Hr. Malfoy?”
“The one who thinks Aggy’s insane,” Aidan clarified for her, sounding far too chipper.
Potter snorted. “Well, that narrows it down.”
“Be nice.” Both his parents warned simultaneously, and for one crazy moment, it was like we were a completely normal, bickering family, all on some jolly road trip 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 post-confusion and chaos, narrowly escaped the Aurors and disappeared into the darkness. Away form the 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 car door, and his jaw was clenched into pained grimace. He obviously would rather be anywhere but here.
The thought made my chest throb.
Sigh. A hot shower sounded nice. 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 was going to 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. Because when the car finally pulled into the driveway, and Mr. Potter cut the rumbling engine to the halt, and Aidan, Potter and I shook ourselves awake... We got out of the car—
...And walked right into an epileptic’s worst nightmare.
I whirled backwards, slamming into the side of the car as my vision was overtaken by a 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 rock-solid 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 apparent low security of the Ministry’s network?” 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 the 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 up 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. He wasn’t a fan—due to having dealt with them his whole life, I suppose. I watched as his shoulders tensed, and for a moment, his arm jerked out. Towards me.
As if he wanted to grab me by the elbow and... Guide me. Help me. Protect me.
But then he lowered his arm firmly to his side, the glimpse of weakness gone. He clenched his hand. And, slowly, almost as if he were reminding himself of something, unclenched it.
Self-restraint, thy name is Potter.
Trying to ignore the emotions churning inside me, I looked back towards the sea of lights that was surging forward towards me... It stood between us and the front door of the house—and more importantly—me and my bed.
Looks like, somehow, in the course of two hours... I had turned famous.
“Oh, hell no,” Aidan whispered from where he was standing next to 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 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. The only other time I’ve been shouted at this loudly was when I accidentally walked in front of the telly while Potter, Aidan and Fred were watching the last few seconds of the Quidditch Cup.
Aidan and Potter went back around the car to help Mr. Potter help Mrs. Potter, leaving me standing like a Petrificus’d chipmunk, staring into the crowd.
I am 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 Canon’s were the only obvious contenders for this years 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. I felt a twinge of guilt, remembering that I was the reason for all of this. He smiled that bracing smile of his, and said matter-of-factly, “To run the gauntlet, of course.”
And then, his hand gripping my elbow, we dived into the crowd.
But it turns out, though, that when faced with a fervent group of reporters, using Harry Potter - the most famous man in the wizardring world - as a human shield isn’t the best tactic.
“Mr. Potter! Mr. Potter! Did you get the toenail clippings I sent you?” One reporter (who, now that I think 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.
“Arghh - 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 inside me. Where was Aidan? WHERE WAS AIDAN?
Shit. SHIT. CALM DOWN. Oh god, I’m claustrophobic! I’m gonna die - I’m gonna be that girl who survives the Death Eater attack but then later perishes from overcrowding! Overcrowding! Do you know how pathetic that is? The only thing worse than that is, I don’t know, death by revolving door!
If Dom were here, she’d tell me to get a hold of myself and chill 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 CHILL. THE FUCK. OUT.
I turned around to see a blonde reporter who was practically foaming at the mouth. Her crimson nails shone 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. Aggy confused.
“Er, thanks?” I began, but she was already continuing, voice smooth and alluring.
“However, Agatha, I would like to ask for comment on a circulating rumor. You see, it’s been—ah—suggested that you’re 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. “Erm - I - well,” I stuttered helplessly. My insides twisted with hysteria. Did people actually think this?
Oh god, what if Mr. and Mrs. Potter, who had been so kind to me, heard this lie and believed it? My face exploded into red. I felt close to crying.
“Well?” The reporter demanded cruelly. 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 your doomed 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. “You have it wrong.”
But... his voice wasn’t right. It was laughing. Mocking. Cruel and cold and strangely alluring; white starlight. The sound 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. 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. Right.
Looking into Potter’s stupid, smirking face, I stated louder than necessary: “I would never take advantage of the generosity that Mr. and Mrs. Potter have showed me.” 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 him in the eye, for once not bothering to cover up 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 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 the Nasty Blonde Reporter. She was 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 fun with you.”
And then she snapped her notepad into a crocodile case, gave a simpering smirk, and stalked off.
A long while later, when I finally made it inside the Potter mansion, my elbows were sore from pushing through so many people, I’d obtained some serious sex hair without going through the actual process of serious sex, and my vision had mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with one of those grainy, white noise TV channels.
So. Many. Fucking. Flashbulbs.
I gingerly stumbled through the front door, directing what seemed like all the strength in my body into not acquiring a minor head concussion. The heavy front door swung shut behind me, and at last there was silence.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU LEFT AGATHA ALONE OUT THERE?!”
I automatically flinched as Harry Potter’s voice bellowed through the hallway, coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchen.
“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’m a scaredy, brown-noser Slytherin who constantly craves outside validation from adults. One of my top goals in life is to find a boyfriend that my parents like. Yeah, that’s right. Like.
And I consider The Wiggles to be legitimate authority figures. They actually inspire fear in me. If one of them told me they didn’t approve of my outfit, I would probably break down and cry.
Come on. Snap out of it, Agatha. Shaking myself into reality, I crept towards the kitchen doorway to listen.
“Agatha is our guest, James.” Mr. Potter’s voice was straining with obvious anger. “And we don’t just leave guests to drown in swarms 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 in a bad perm was exactly what I considered a fun Friday night. In fact, it goes right under the Hobbies section on my Wizbook page.
“Still, it’s your responsibility to look after her—”
“She is not my responsibility.” For once, Potter’s voice held a spark of anger—his voice had almost bordered a shout. It was completely opposite his usual bored, apathetic drawl. 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? Stop pretending like you actually know what’s goin—”
“You care about this girl, James, I know you do. I can see it—”
“—So why’d you leave her outside?”
“I told you, I had to take care of Mum! Someone has to, at least.”
The 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 in.
I hadn’t known surrendering was The Chosen One’s style. Then again, it turns out there’s been 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 some guilt. I could tell that he hated that it wasn’t him, but his son who had to be the 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.”
Words are a funny thing. You know when you read a page out of, say, a History of Magic textbook and you get to the bottom after five minutes—only to realize that you hadn’t absorbed a single sentence of what you just read?
Yeah. That was kind of like what happened to me in that moment. Except, you know, with listening.
I mean, I heard what was coming out of Mr. Potter’s mouth as I stood, hidden, by the doorway. I nodded along—eardrums perfectly intact, understanding of the English language as clear as ever—but I didn’t actually hear what he was saying. I was just kind of like ‘Oh, sweet, he’s gonna check up on 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 look for me. Lil' old me who was, currently, standing right outside in the hallway, eavesdropping on his conversation. Lil' old me who was about to be discovered by the participants of said conversation. Lil' old me who had a long-standing, rocky re-hate-tionship with one of said participants of said conversation.
Lil' old me.
My brain kicked in at the last minute. Retreat, retreat! It was screaming, but it was already to 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. Oops. Potter, who was standing behind him, 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 agreeing to doing Coca-Cola commercials, and hadn’t just heard 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. Okay. Maybe I should turn down the cheery manic-ness just a teensy bit. 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 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 though, Potter hadn’t been quiet enough, because his dad whipped around and shot him a glare that, had it been in my direction, would have scared the pants off of me.
“No, seriously.” Potter was unfazed, his voice icy. “I’d like her to literally say it again. Just let me get my tape recorder first.” 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 she’s ever admitted to something actually 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...or like the face Dom makes when she’s trying to floss (it’s not pretty).
I grabbed a glass off the smooth marble counter and filled it with water from the Potter’s state-of-the-art sink, (which, incidentally, had about as many different settings as a Jacuzzi).
I was determined not to say anything snarky. 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 us. “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.
After his dad finally left, there was pounding silence. I glanced out the window as I sipped, determined not to talk or even acknowledge Potter. And don’t even get me started on leaving. Just because Potter was here didn’t mean I couldn’t be as well. This was my kitchen too. Or, at least, for the next five days.
In fact, the two of us seemed to both be thinking the same thing. This was another challenge. A turf war, if you will. Neither of us wanted to back down, to retreat into some other corner of the house. It was me against him, 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. In about five hours, the sun would rise and kids all over the UK would be getting up and running downstairs to unwrap their Christmas presents.
But it didn’t feel like Christmas. Not when I had to spend it with someone who seemed to carry a reservoir of hatred and snarky comments, dedicated specifically to me. Honestly, if there was one Christmas present I’d want, it’d be him gone. But I doubt Santa ever did kidnapping requests, so...
I turned around, away from the sink, to see Potter. He was sitting on the table now, looking completely unbothered, as if my presence wasn’t distracting... or, really, even existent. He was staring at the window, too, at the darkened sky. The moonlight made his features more dazzling than usual—the sculpted planes of his face, the tilt of his lips, the simmering gold in his eyes. It was so unfair.
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 swiveled his gaze to me, coolly cocking an eyebrow. I shrunk back, berating myself for speaking to him. 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, he jumped down to the ground and ambled a few steps forward, head cocked at me. “Very good, Bennett,” He said the way a kindergarten teacher might speak to a particularly slow student. “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 flinch. “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 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.
I took a breath.
His eyes, crackling with amber electricity, met mine. We were only a feet apart.
He was waiting.
“Nothing,” I muttered, looking down as the heat pooled into my cheeks. Does anyone have some salt? Sugar? Water? Something to make this pride go down a little easier as I swallow it? “Nothing. I’m just... I’m just gonna go to bed. Goodnight.”
I stepped forward, but he sidestepped right, effectively blocking my path. Argh.
“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 his gaze roaming my face, scrutinizing me for any sign of weakness. I held my breath, not daring to make a sound. 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 throbbed and ached. “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.
“It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad? Freddy, that’s like saying Voldemort is just a nice guy 'once you get to know him!’ This is a disaster! I look like a naked mole rat!”
Freddy Weasley squinted his light blue eyes at the newspaper in his hand, face looking like he was trying to suppress a particularly powerful sneeze. “No, really. You don’t look like a naked mole rat at all. You look completely human.”
I knew better, though. That was the face Freddy always made when he tried to lie.
“And you, my friend, look completely constipated.” Snatching the newspaper away and ignoring the ensuing offended gasp, I stood up and stalked over to the sink, breathing rather harsh.
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 a hint of goblin thrown in there...“
I gave an aggravated scream, chucking the newspaper so hard into the rubbish bin that I wouldn’t be surprised if the earth had just shifted on its axis a teensy-weensy bit.
This. Was. So. Unfair.
The three of us were in the Potter’s 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 when I say ‘news,’ 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 was obviously taken from last night, when we’d been ambushed by the paparazzi.
Not only was the photo in black and white (never flattering), but in it, my face was completely pale ‘cause of the flash. Draco Malfoy pale, in fact. My eyes were closed, my mouth gaping open in a flattering, ‘Oh hey, check out a view of my tonsils!’ kind of way, and my hair was pulled back so that, because of the trick of light, I looked bald.
At this rate, no guy who sees this is going to want to come near me.
I wonder where the nearest pet store is. I should probably start stocking up on cat food for my inevitable future as a lonely spinster cat lady.
“Hey, cheer up, Aggs. Honest to Merlin, you look fine. That picture is, er, refreshing! It’s a good change from all those air-brushed, perfect supermodels you see these days,” Freddy soothed, ever the chipper one.
I whipped around, face scathing. “Oh, yes, thank you for that, Freddy. Because my top concern was that I’d look 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 that 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. “Have either of you lost weight, by any chance?”
“Just stop. Please. It’s for your own good, Freddy.” Dom rolled her eyes from where she was kicking back in one of the wooden chairs, 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 I definitely did not envision the owner of that name, 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, checking my watch. 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.
“What?” I demanded. Dom looked like she’d been brutally stabbed in the spleen, while Fred looked like he’d just been witness to said brutal stabbing.
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 the universe being centered on me, and how I always have to be the one to save the day. His words, not mine.”
“Do you know how awkward 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 bacheesus 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 quite the intimidating one when he wants to be.”
I scowled. “Look, that doesn’t change the fact that after I woke up from all of this, he proceeded to play wrecking ball with my self-esteem. The things he said were... totally uncalled for.”
Dom and Fred exchanged 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. Any other time, I might have ignored the sinking feeling in my chest that told me Dom was right. But now, I simply accepted it. I had punched the kid in the face, after all. That didn’t exactly warrant me a Miss Congeniality sash.
Could this be what...What maturity feels like?
“I know, alright?” I finally responded. “I know I haven’t been on the best behavior. But I do find it a little suspicious that the only time Potter’s doing nice things for me is when I’m ‘conveniently’ unconscious... Andoh will you two just stop with the looks already?”
Freddy and Dom turned towards me with identical grins that could only have been made creepier with some clown face paint and matching machetes. I stared blankly.
“What?” I asked, annoyed.
Fred just slowly shook his head, wiping an invisible tear from his eye and clasping his hands over his heart with standing-ovation-worthy melodrama. “Oh ma’ lawd, Mama, would you just take a looskie 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!” This was accompanied by some fake swooning and fainting that I did not appreciate.
“My oh my!”
“Har har. Very funny. Just so you know, Freddy, I’m now imagining you in a ball gown and matching parasol.”
“Well butter me on both sides and call me a biscuit!”
“I do declare!”
“It’s pink. The parasol is pink.”
“I’m so proud of our little lass!”
“Such a wee one, she was!”
“Okay, now you’re just phasing into Scottish accents. At least get your stereotypes right! Honestly. What next?”
“Crikey mate, it’s a good arvo in the outback today!” And on cue, in bursts my brother The Crocodile Hunter, completely disheveled and still wearing his pajamas—which included pants printed with a charming pattern of a cartoon troll picking bogeys out its nose. And then eating then.
...And this would be the moment where I would interject in typical Aggy-fashion something along the lines of, ‘I need new friends,’ or ‘I’m surrounded by loonies.’
But not today. Nope. Because I am mature.
Besides, friends you can try and avoid, but you can’t really change family. That shit stays in your gene pool. Forever.
Aidan snatched the tea mug out of my hands and collapsed onto a nearby chair, draining it empty with horrifying glugging noises. We all watched him finish it in silent approval (Freddy) and disgust (Dom and I).
“So,” Aidan said when he was finished, wiping his mouth as he slammed the mug on the table. “Whatcha 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 Potter’s!” When lying, it’s best not to go that far from the truth. In my case, it was from singular to plural. Which isn’t that bad, not really. I’m sure there’s some leeway in that ‘Thou shalt not lie’ thing.
“Really?” Aidan’s eyebrows shot up. He dumped his feet on the table and leaned back, frowning.
“Yeah!” Dom said with chipperness deserving of a Cover Girl commercial. Fred coughed, looking again like he was sneeze-constipated. Sneezetipated. “We were just talking about how amazing Mr. Potter was at the Ministry last night.”
Aidan nodded, softening. “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 Bennett’s and your near-death experiences? Is it some kind of family tradition?”
I shrugged. I knew that, after last night, I should be having all sorts of enlightening epiphanies and re-evaluations. If my life were a romantic comedy, right now would be the time where I’d quit my deadbeat accounting job and confess love to my dream-guy in a rainy street or crowded airport terminal (though not before punching out the my childhood bully in an epic bar-fight scene). Right now would be where the whole movie turns around.
But in reality... I didn’t feel much different. Sure, I was suddenly a lot more appreciative of a working heartbeat, but that whole night had felt so surreal that I hadn’t really thought about it. I was just glad to be alive.
“Mr. Potter is the bomb,” Dom agreed fondly.
I looked up, curiosity perked. “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.
“Mr. Potter?” 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, feeling a little disillusioned. “What’s Albus like? I’ve never really talked to the kid.”
“He’s cool. Good at Quidditch.” Of course Freddy uses sports-playing as a person’s main identifier. 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, he’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 that made him look unfairly good (there should be a rule about the thinness of a boy’s shirt in correlation to the drool-worthiness of his back muscles. Seriously) and his hair a tousled mess.
For a moment, there was a jerking silence as Potter and I locked eyes. My stomach plummeted to my feet, and then served as a cushy landing pad for my heart, which quickly followed suit on its suicide 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 up in a tiny, devastating smirk, and he walked right past me, like I didn’t exist, like that moment 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.
DO BOYS NOT REALIZE HOW SEXY SLEEPY VOICES ARE? IT IS SO UNFAIR THAT THE MALE GENDER HAS THIS WEAPON AGAINST US. I MEAN I KNOW WE GIRLS WILL ALWAYS HAVE BOOBS, BUT COME ON. 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. You probably have a press conference to go to and some newborn babies to kiss. Good luck,” 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 whole 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, getting comfortable.
Potter’s mouth quirked downwards irritably.
“Sooooo,” Fred drew out slowly, looking between me and Potter with wariness. There was a thumping silence in the air. I’d say you could cut through the tension with a knife, but I actually think a chainsaw was more in order. “What now?”
Dom suddenly clapped her hands. “Presents!” She exclaimed brightly, almost demonically. “Let’s do presents!”
“Right. It’s so great you’re not letting that whole 'Jesus dying for our sins' thing stand in the way of the true meaning of Christmas.”
“PRESENTS! GET THEM!”
“Ugh, no, please...”
“It’s too early for this!”
“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! MERLIN.”
Then there was a great kafuffle as everyone tried to find their presents and avoid getting mauled by Dom and her rabid Christmas spirit extremism. When we were all finally situated at the table again, Fred had a bleeding lip, there was a mini Mt. Everest of presents on the table, and Potter was sitting directly across from me—hair ruffled, looking distinctly bored, and staring anywhere but at me.
Overall, everyone had a pretty decent haul. As was tradition, Dom squealed every time someone opened a gift, and Freddy insisted on wearing all the unwrapped ribbons and bows on his head. No one except Dom really actually cared that much—after five years of returns, re-gifts, and wrong sizes, we’d all pretty much accepted the fact that we were crap present-givers (one year, Freddy gave me a cotton swab. It’d already been used).
Mostly, the present process went along like this: we would all chat amongst ourselves, not really paying attention to the presents, until Dom would bark at one of us to go open something. The person would comply, unwrap, and then pretend to like whatever they got while secretly stashing the gift receipt away so it could be later used for an exchange/store credit. Gotta love that store credit.
This year, though, was actually better than most. Some of the highlights: Freddy received a matching sweater-set for him and Rufus the Gerbil. Aidan got a college-style shirt that said ‘Ball So Hard University’ on the front (from yours truly), as well as a purple, glitter spray painted Quidditch helmet from all of us (the helmet was because he needed extra protection against beater bat-wielding psychopaths such as COoper, and the purple glitter spray paint was because...well, know one really knew, but Dom had insisted).
Dom gave me a Witch Weekly’s hairstyling kit, Aidan got 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 dusty and unused or sitting inside Aidan's wallet.
Though Freddy's real Christmas present to me was when he asked if it would be a good idea to give Evelyn a snuggie for Christmas, and I had the indescribable pleasure of telling him that yes, getting your two-month old, high maintenance, Slytherin girlfriend a snuggie for your first Christmas together was, indeed, a beautiful idea.
Dom, it turned out, also had a few surprises: the first was that tomorrow, she would be going on a surprise ski trip with Bridezilla (Victoire) and the rest of her fam in "the mothafucking Alps or Alaska or some other Yeti habitat shit" (her words, not mine), which meant I was pretty much left all by myself with the guys. Fun.
The second was five golden disks, each about the size of my palm, that basically looked like bloated coins. On one side were shiny mirrors. Apparently, Dom had gotten the idea from her Aunt Hermione, an old DA veteran.
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.
And this, ladies and gentleman, is why magic is simply awesome.
"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 'em 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 blushed flaming tomato red. "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 duties kicking in. "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 across each other, and the ensuing jolt up my arm was enough to power the city of Singapore.
I looked up, too surprised to mask my face, and met Potter's eyes. They seemed to sear right through me. There was a flash of deeper emotion—whether it was anger or desire or something else, I couldn't tell. Everything around us just seemed to stop.
Luckily, no one noticed our weird Press Pause moment. Neither did they notice the blatant lack of cheery gift giving between me and Potter.
Granted, all our other presents from past years had been cheap, last minute gifts—It’d almost been like a contest to see who could put in the least effort. One year, Potter gave me scissors. Another year, I gave Potter a rock. But this was the first year where there was absolutely nothing between us. It was weird.
I took a deep, shuddering breath, only to look up and see that Potter was still staring at me. Unabashedly. Almost like he was trying to figure me out.
I didn't like it.
"Don't you agree, Aggy? Aggy?" Dom's voice pulled 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?"
Oh yeah. For Christmas, Potter had given Aidan and Fred tickets to some New Years concert they'd all been wanting to go to. I wasn't sure what band it was, or even what genre. It was probably just an excuse to get White Girl Wasted and party.
Not that I cared, 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 to his mouth was quirked knowingly upwards, like he was almost expecting me to say something snarky and mum-ish. The smugness dancing in his gaze was too much for me to tolerate.
I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.
"Yeah," I mumbled at Dom's general direction, all the while staring at the table. "Sounds like you guys'll have fun."
There was a subdued silence from the boys. I don't know what they'd been expecting, but it obviously wasn't that. Dom babbled on.
"Totally. I'm so jealous, I wish I could go too—and oh no, Agatha!"
My head shot up, my neck cricking painfully. "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," I said, monotone.
Aidan's brow was creased, and Fred was looking faintly guilty as well. "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 if you don't want us to. We could stay. We'd resent you because of it for the rest of eternity, but still. Whatevs."
Aidan was more serious. "Aggy," he said slowly, "I can stay here with you, and Freddy and Jimmy can go to the concert. Seriously. It's no big deal."
I stared at my brother's concerned face. He was being so sweet. And then I swiveled my gaze towards Potter—he was smirking, almost like he knew I was about to accept Aidan's proposal.
That smirk was a challenge. Prove me right, it said.
"No," I said quietly, shaking my head furiously. "It's fine. Go to the concert. I'll just camp out here at the house. I've never liked New Years anyways."
A tiny crease seemed to dig itself between Potter's eyebrows—the slightest frown—but 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 note in Dom's voice was the worst. I gritted my teeth and tried not to grimace.
"Really guys, 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 maybe imagined it. His chin was cocked arrogantly, his voice thick and mocking like molasses. "Of course. She probably has better things to do than hang out with us lowlifes. The concert's not really her style, anyway. It's not Italian Opera or Mozart—I don't think she'd be able to handle it. "
Aidan shot him a warning look, but I could see the amusement on his face.
My teeth were grinding so hard together, it would make any dentist cringe. I was irritated by the way he 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 Princesses On Ice doesn't count as a rock concert, Bennett."
At this, Freddy laughed. Full-on laughed. 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 smiled, pained.
"Oh, we will. Without you." That stupid Cheshire smirk on Potter's face wouldn't budge. He just loved to watch me lose.
Before anyone could respond, a sharp shrill of a ring pierced the air. Immediately, all five of us pulled out our equally battered, equally out-dated 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. YUP. NIFFLERS ARE PRETTY DOPE. I MISS MY NIFFLER. ANYWAY. I'M GONNA GO NOW OKAYTHANKSBYEMUM."
Freddy snapped the phone shut, glaring darkly as the rest of us collapsed into hysterical laughter.
"You," he shot at Dom, who was currently collapsed, tears streaming down her eyes, over the shaking shoulders of a laughing Potter. "Are coming with me, Missy. And stop laughing! I could name plenty of embarrassing things about you!"
"Oh y-yeah! L-like w-what?" Dom got out in between hiccups.
"What about the chicken nugget incident?"
Dom's laughter immediately died, her eyes growing panicked and serious. She stood up quickly, her 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 without another word.
Aidan looked between me and Potter, confused. "Chicken nugget incident?"
I shrugged. Potter shook his head solemnly, smirk gone. "Trust me, mate, you don't want to know."
Christmas break passed by in a blur of heated tension between me and Potter, and awkward exchanges with everyone else. After a couple night’s 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 a single, calm raise of a penciled eyebrow, managed to keep an attitude of blasé nonchalance that only a teenaged girl could feign. Of course, I didn’t really see Mr. Potter that much after from his special cameo at the Ministry—he was now busy trying to catch the guys who’d attempted to kill me, natch.
In a way, things were back to normal... Except for the fact that I was now on the cover of every newspaper in wizardring Britain, of course.
One very strange thing that I’d noticed, however, was that Aidan and I’s relationship seemed to have taken some weird, Freaky Friday turn—a role reversal. He was now the fierce protector, the fretful comforter. It was my turn to go to him... On nights when I’d wake up from nightmares of hysterical screams and green flashes, I would stumble to his room, unable to take being alone in the dark anymore.
I’d shake Aidan awake, he’d croak something cranky and then grudgingly budge over, and I would 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.
Those were the only nights when I actually woke up feeling somewhat refreshed. If Potter knew about my nighttime mattress-hopping habits, he didn’t say anything.
...Though I couldn’t see how he didn’t. Know, I mean. I wasn’t exactly a stealth expert during these expeditions—Potter’s house was foreign territory to me, especially in the pitch-black midnight. On more than one occasion, when groping through the hallways, I would trip over something and let out a word that wasn’t exactly SAT vocabulary. Usually four-letters and yelped at high volume.
Potter, who’s room was right next to mine, could be a deep sleeper, but the walls were thin and I know he’s noticed at least once.
How did I know, you might ask? Well, let me just say that, when disoriented and on a nightmare adrenaline-buzz, sometimes the different doors of the Potter household can look similar... And it’s easy to get mixed up on which room’s which. Especially in the dark, when you look inside and all that you can really see is a lump in a bed. And by the time you’re crawling into that bed and you realize 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 out the bed 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 was one awkward morning.
Anyways, besides that mishap, life seemed to be heading back towards the 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. Always a good sign.
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.
As long as I was inside the Potter mansion, the outside world didn’t exist.
Mrs. Potter was very nice about the whole thing, offering me words of comfort and advice. I would help her every night with dinner, and it almost became a routine: the two of us talking as we loaded plates with food and set the table.
“Don’t worry about them, Aggy. 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 really have no one to be scared of.”
“I know. It just bugs me that others are reading these things about me. My relatives. My friends.” I grimaced. “My teachers.”
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 them and none are really that bad. A lot of newspapers are too busy revering 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 more famous than any of them, and also younger. That’s the worst sin, in their minds. That you’re bursting with youth and fertility, or whatever, while they’re all wrinkly and saggy-boobed.”
Ginny Potter is, to put it succinctly, the most awesome woman I’ve ever met.
Ginny smiled, not meeting my eyes and instead gazing out the kitchen window. The very same one 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 him interact with his family - the way he bickered good-naturedly with Lily and Ginny, the way he never let them do any work or chores if he could help it, always swooping in last minute to take the dirty plates or trash bags off their hands...
He treated them the opposite he treated me - all the wit without the scathing, all the chivalry without the reluctance.
It kind of hurt to watch.
There was a bout of comfortable silence. And then: “Agatha?”
“Have you been sleeping well?”
I froze at the question. Potter and I’s little midnight...mistaken identity crisis, we shall call it, had been only a couple days ago. Not that I thought Ginny would get angry if she heard about the incident (in fact, I’m pretty sure she’d find it hilariously funny), but still. A little awkward. “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. I was both relieved and horrified at the same time.
On one hand, at least Ginny didn’t know I had tried to sleep with her son (er, bad word choice). On the other... the word ‘talk’ was probably being kind. Scream, kick, howl... That was more like it, judging by how graphic my dreams have been getting. There was no doubt about it. I’d been making noises in my sleep from my nightmares, and the rest of the house was starting to notice.
I stood in silence, my cheeks burning, humiliated, as I absentmindedly ladled a bowl full with soup. I wondered if Ginny knew the full extent of everything that went on between closed doors in this house.
Almost as if she was reading my mind, Ginny spoke, 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 I could tell he was upset by the thought of it.”
My heart was beating fast. “Well, er, he hasn’t been upset enough to mention anything to me.”
Ginny nodded. “Understood,” she said neutrally, and that was that.
Not everyone was as nice about the situation, however. While Lily’s staring and sad looks didn’t bother me, it was Potter (who else?) that really got under my nerves. Everyday, it seemed like our relationship, for lack of better word, was getting worse. He didn’t make sense anymore.
Not that he ever did in the first place, but still. He made less sense. He was unflappable, impossible to shake. Distant. Besides for the sarcastic little comments he was perpetually throwing at me—as well as the occasional passing shoulder-shove in the hallway—it was like I didn’t exist to him, like that night at the Ministry had been nothing to him.
The only thing that bothered him—really bothered him, for some reason—was when I stared at him. He would catch my eyes, and it always made that smirk twist into a scowl, his eyes darken dangerously.
There’d been one extremely... tense situation involving me, him, and a shower towel. I’d been walking into the bathroom while he’d been walking out, and somehow we’d managed to get stuck—for a split second—inside the doorway. While this wasn’t unusual—awkward situations like these were my forte... It was the fact that Potter wasn’t wearing any clothes.
I mean, okay, there was that bath towel wrapped around his waist, but still. Potter had just come out of the shower, and his hair was dripping with water and his body all... defined, plus there was steam everywhere and it was getting very, very hot. I gaped, panicked, pressed between Potter’s abdominal muscles and the doorway.. What was that saying, about a rock and a hard place?
He was smirking, sensing my obvious discomfort. A single water droplet fell from his hair and plinked onto my foot. Just a water droplet. But to me, it felt like a bowling ball.
“Oh I'm sorry, did me walking get in the way of you trying to plow through the doorway?” his voice was low and rough and lilting with sarcasm, and I was suddenly very conscious of the fact that the only thing separating me between a naked Potter was a bath towel. A bath towel. Oh Jesus.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to,” I breathed, obviously flustered. Don’t look at his shoulder muscles, don’t look at the water droplets curving down his very defined abs, don’t look at his tanned and toned arms... Stupid unfair, year-round Quidditch.
"Of course not. Sorry, I forgot you're always the victim.” His eyes were luminous, flashing with a hint of anger.
Frustration surged through me, and I gritted my teeth. “Look, if you’re using the bathroom than I can just wet here—I mean wait here, wait here.” The air was so hot between us. I wondered if, situations were reversed, and I was the one standing in the towel, if Potter would react like this.
Of course not. He probably wouldn’t even notice.
Oh he’d noticed, a voice in my head was saying, just like you’re noticing him right now.
Shut up, voice.
“Sorry?” His eyebrows lifted. A droplet trickled from a lick of hair, down his temple, the sculpted cheekbones, hanging off the edge of his strong jaw before plinking onto his chest.
“What?” I gaped. Shit. Did I say that out loud?
“Did you say something?”
“No, of course not.” Yeah, I definitely said that out loud.
I pressed my lips together nervously. “Yupsolutely.”
Potter obviously thought I was a crazy person. “Well then, if you don’t mind, could you—?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry about that.”
After a great deal of shuffling and one scary moment when I had to press against Potter’s chest for leverage, we both popped out of the doorway on our respective sides. Without another look back, Potter was swaggering down the hallway and I was staring at him. His back, his shoulders... Unf.
The ensuing shower I took, no need to say, was at an arctic temperature.
So I edited this chapter because I was a little unhappy with how long it was, though I'm not sure how much good I did. Oh well! Oh, and yes, I just wanted to add that the Albus Seeker reference was a nod to Welcome By the Chase by Dream_BIG. Go check it out now! Thanks for reading guys. I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this chapter, because I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's very filler-y. Anyways, that said, a lot of things had to be wrapped up so...Yeah. Just let me know whatcha think.